In order to drive in-store traffic offline, nowadays you have to execute your strategy online. It might feel counterintuitive, but 90% of shoppers turn to social media for retail and often look for help with buying decisions. With that shift, consumers paved a new purchase journey for retailers to follow.

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Change isn’t a bad thing–it’s quite the opposite. Unlike the marketers of retail past, advances in technology gifted you with the unique opportunity to engage shoppers at every step of that journey—at home, on the go and in-store.

At its most basic, social media is a marketing and sales tool. But with a little elbow grease (equal parts creativity, market research and strategy), social media can be an invaluable tool for building customer relationships and driving in-store sales.

Here are six tips to help you grow your retail business on social media:

Sprout features mentioned in this article:

1. Evaluate Your Resources

Whether you’re an established social business or building your first profile, you need to ask yourself a few questions before moving forward.

  1. What are you selling? This is particularly important if you have a large product catalog. While you don’t have to write down every single item, it helps to clearly define what you’re marketing. Doing so will make it easier later on when you decide which social media features to take advantage of.
  2. Who are you selling to? Understanding your target demographic is key. There’s more than one social network and it’s likely that your target demographic is spread out across several of them. It’s also very possible that they’ll be more active on some networks over others. Knowing where to focus your energy is vital to success.
  3. Is there a need for your product or service? This is something that should have been discussed prior to starting your business or launching a particular product. That said, it’s important to consider the reasons why you followed through because it’ll help you build out your messaging and story on social.
  4. What’s your bandwidth? No, not that bandwidth. This refers to what you’re able to dedicate to social media in terms of time and tools. What will your social media team look like? Clearly defined roles will help avoid digital disaster later in the future.

Put Effort Where It’s Needed

Having a clear understanding of your objectives and available resources help determine the type of social media strategy to develop moving forward. Obviously the more active you are the better. Social media can be very rewarding for retailers, but you only get what you put into it.

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If you create a couple of profiles, check them once a month and pay little mind to social media engagement, then you probably won’t reap many benefits. It’s possible you’re not quite ready for integrating social media into your marketing efforts. But if you execute a well-researched strategy with regular engagement and thoughtful content, your hard work will pay off.

2. Improve Your Social Listening Skills

People talk about you whether you’re listening or not. As a business, you have to get used to the idea that every product, service and store you own is being discussed on social media. Those conversations include both positive and negative sentiments. If you’re not actively listening, you miss out on valuable customer opinions and feedback, as well as the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations.

An easy way to improve your social listening skills is by monitoring social mentions of your business across social networks. For starters, we recommend tracking multiple variations of your business name and popular products. Not everyone will spell it correctly, and you don’t want a typo to be the reason customer feedback remains unnoticed.

Had GameStop been monitoring variations of its name, it might have seen this Tweet come through and been able to lend a helping hand.

Active listening means you’re not waiting for customers to come to you. You can’t assume that everyone with a question is tagging you in their post. A great way to show that your business cares is by reaching out first. You can accomplish this by listening for keywords or phrases that your customers might be talking about or use on social media.

For example, an athletic gear retailer may want to run searches for local sports teams and seasonal sports in anticipation of relevant questions. A coffee shop will want to tag phrases like “I want a latte” or profiles that include “coffee addict.”

smart inbox monitoring keyword instagram

Sprout Social’s Smart Search lets you look for people to engage with and conversations to join with a simple keyword search. You can even narrow it down to a specific location—a valuable option for local businesses with multiple establishments.

Respond to Positive & Negative Mentions

No one likes to receive negative feedback, but it’s impossible to please everyone. If you receive a less-than-stellar review, the worse thing you can do is ignore it. Doing so doesn’t make it go away and it could cost you a customer. All it takes is a keyword search or a well-targeted campaign from a competitor to reach a disgruntled customer.

Instead learn how to handle negative feedback and turn it into something constructive. Don’t just respond by directing a customer to your contact page and hope that fixes the issue. You really need to hear what consumers are saying and do everything you can to resolve the problem. And with help from social media monitoring, you can respond much faster, which might help ease the situation.

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According to the Sprout Social Q2 2016 Index, people consider a response within four hours reasonable. However, many brands are willing to let people hang for an average of 10 hours. We know not every retailer can afford around-the-clock social monitoring, but it certainly helps to at least make an effort to manage your customers’ expectations. Otherwise you run the risk of losing a customer to a competitor.

Even though a lot of attention is placed on negative social mentions, don’t let the positive ones go unnoticed either. Be sure to acknowledge the people who took time to share something positive about your brand (whether they directly mentioned you or not). This practice demonstrates you listen and value what your customers have to say.

3. Give People a Reason to Visit

There are a ton of details that go into building your social presence and it’s easy to get distracted. But remember your ultimate goal is to get people to visit your store. So how do you do that? Think about why people follow business on social media in the first place. The top five reasons are as follows:

  1. Promotions and discounts
  2. For latest product information
  3. Customer support
  4. Entertaining content
  5. Ability to offer feedback

Offering exclusive deals and discounts to your social media followers is one way to drive social media traffic into your store. It gives you a chance to reward loyal customers and welcome those who are trying you for the first time.

Another option is to hold an offline event. If marketed correctly, an offline event can be a great opportunity to build relationships with both new and existing customers.

A good example of this is with Intelligentsia Coffee, who regularly holds coffee tastings and brewing events for the public. The coffee retailer promoted the event on its Facebook Page, welcoming both existing and new customers.

You can even hold a raffle or giveaway at these events and ask attendees to provide their email address to be entered. It’s a great way to keep in touch with them after the event ended. Just make sure the item you’re giving away is related to your brand—it doesn’t make sense for a coffee shop to give away an iPad. Giving away a branded mug and a bag of a special roast is much more on brand. It will also do more to build awareness for you when the winner posts about it on social media.

One thing to be careful of is not to go too heavy on promotions. Brands send 23 promotional messages for every 1 response given to their audience. While promotions and coupon codes are useful, they shouldn’t make up the bulk of your engagement with your audience.

Tie In-Store & Online Content Together

Once customers are in your store, it’d be great if they shared their experience with their networks. Getting people to Tweet their locations or upload selfies with their latest purchases isn’t terribly challenging. However, you can certainly take advantage of the practice by tossing a branded hashtag into the mix.

In 2015, Victoria’s Secret harnessed the power of selfies when it asked customers to snap a photo in front of a window display, tag it with #VSTease and #VSGift and show it to an associate to receive a free gift. The campaign returned more than 2,000 selfies on Instagram.

#VSTEASE girls day! 💞📷🐽

A post shared by Nataly 🌹 (@nat_belieberr) on

What’s great about this is that it was an in-store prompt. Of course Victoria’s Secret used its social media channels to encourage people to visit its brick-and-mortar locations. The campaign was different in that people received their reward right away, rather than entering something online and having to wait.

4. Think Local

If you’re a business with multiple locations in a city, or several cities for that matter, you have to craft your messaging with that particular location in mind. If you’re talking to a broad group of people, your message can come across as robotic and not personalized.

Let’s say you have store locations in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis. If you publish a Facebook post promoting an event at your Milwaukee location on all three Facebook Pages, your Chicago and St. Louis customers will feel out of the loop and probably confused. On the other hand, if you schedule a “Good morning, Chicago” post that goes live to all three Pages, it may be viewed as lazy outreach.

Personalize your updates based on location. Use built-in targeting features to ensure the right message is delivered to the right place. Even if you just have one location, familiarize yourself with the community you’re in. ENJOY, a local retailer in Chicago, regularly shares photos of the Lincoln Square neighborhood where they do business. It even supports other local businesses in the area, which is a great way to show support and build relationships.

5. Create Smarter Mobile Ads

According to Facebook, 49% of in-store purchases are influenced by digital interactions, of which more than 50% occur on mobile. Facebook Ads have long helped retailers promote in-store products, but there wasn’t a way to customize creative based on local availability. Marketing out-of-stock products or inaccurate local prices can lead to a poor customer experience.

Dynamic ads for retail help you form better customer experiences and avoid wasted impressions. With this offering, ads are linked to local product catalogs. That means you can customize your ad creative for different stores based on local product inventory, pricing and promotions.

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For instance, if you want to advertise a nationwide sales event happening at every store, dynamic ads for retail will showcase only the products that are in-stock at a nearby store and display the price found at that location. If something sells out in one store, the campaign will automatically adjust so that people in that region will no longer see it in advertisements.

6. Invest in Visual Storytelling

What you say on social media is important, but how you say it is even more critical. What we mean by this is how you deliver your message plays a big role in how it’s received. For example, say the same message is published as a text-only update, as a photo and as a video. Which one do you think will receive more engagement? While the exact number might vary, chances are the photo or video will perform the best.

Visual storytelling is a hot trend in marketing right now, and one that many brands are paying attention to. Did you know that including a video on a landing page can increase conversion by 80%?

In fact, by 2017, it’s estimated that 74% of all internet traffic will be video. And with more support from platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, visual storytelling isn’t going away any time soon.

When men’s grooming brand Harry’s launched at Target, the retailers turned to Snapchat to generate buzz and engagement. As part of the campaign, customers using Snapchat received a clean shave thanks to the app’s facial recognition lens.

When a mammoth shops at @target #harrysattarget

A post shared by Harry's (@harrys) on

Another brilliant example of how visual content is driving success on social media is Warby Parker and its at-home try-ons. While this campaign isn’t unique to a specific social platform, it promoted user-generated content to drive awareness and engagement.

The retailer sends potential customers five pairs of glasses to try on for five days. Consumers are encouraged to take pictures of themselves wearing the different frames and then post those photos on social media using the hashtag #WarbyHomeTryOn. That way friends, followers and even Warby Parker itself can weigh in on the new frames.

Shoppers have posted more than 25,000 images on Warby Parker’s Facebook Page and tagged more than 40,000 photos on Instagram.

Bonus: Focus on Customer Experience

We live during a time where anything you want is just a click or tap away. Unless you’re a super niche retailer, chances are your products can be bought anywhere. So why should customers choose your store over others?

When creating and executing your social media strategy, focus on the small details. They might seem trivial to you, but to a customer, they could mean the difference between a sale and a bail. Strive to deliver excellence in every interaction, be it recognizing a loyal customer, answering a question or resolving a customer issue.