Retailers arguably have the most to gain from social media marketing.

And despite popular belief, social media isn’t killing retail: it’s simply encouraging the space to evolve.

Recent data from the 2019 Sprout Social Index should serve as a wake-up call for retailers skeptical about what social media is worth. Whether it’s a digital or in-person purchase, social followers signal potential business for brands of all shapes and sizes.

The takeaway from these stats? Social media for retail is centered around the customer journey.

Maybe someone’s learning about your brand for the first time. Perhaps you’re looking to reach former or current customers.

Either way, retailers need to create a social customer journey that encompasses all of the actions above versus only acquisition or attention.

Social media for retail: how to create a compelling customer journey

The beauty of social media for retail is that you can engage with people at just about any point of the customer lifecycle.

But therein lies the challenge of social media marketing for retailers, too.

To make the most of your campaigns, it’s crucial to understand the tactics and strategies that are proven to work among today’s top retailers. In this guide, we break down social media for retail and what brands need to do to map out that ever-so-important customer journey.

1. Adopt an omnichannel social presence

Retailers can’t afford to stick to a single social platform.

While putting all of your efforts into one channel might keep you from spreading your resources thin, doing so also means leaving money on the table.

Literally.

And yes, recent stats point to just how important Instagram is for retailers today in terms of social selling. That said, there’s more to social media for retail than the ‘gram.

Let’s take a quick dive into how retailers can spread their social presence across multiple platforms while taking advantage of each channel’s strengths and best practices.

Lululemon manages to tick all the boxes of what it takes to run a thriving brand account on Instagram. Stunning product photos? A distinct brand voice? Clear calls-to-action to entice customers? It’s all there in black-and-white.

Meanwhile, Lululemon also takes advantage of paid Facebook advertising while also double-dipping their Instagram content. This Facebook ad provides a glimpse of how retailers can roll out a hybrid social media strategy that features paid ads in addition to organic content.

Lululemon has also managed to master Pinterest for business, promoting pins and inspiration boards featuring their products. Although some retailers might sleep on Pinterest, the product is a well-documented hotspot for consumers to research potential purchases.

And of course, the brand is also active on Twitter to cross-promote content, address customer service concerns and give customers shout-outs just because.

To ensure that you’re hitting up every segment of your potentially fragmented audience, it’s important that you have a strategy for promoting content between platforms. Sprout can help with that through social scheduling that not only lets you cross-promote content, but time your promotions based on optimal engagement.

2. Use social media to supplement your existing marketing campaigns

This might seem like a no-brainer, but so much of social media for retail means finding ways to mesh your social presence with existing paid campaigns.

Running a promotion? Launching a product? Time-sensitive offers? No matter what you’re pushing, you can’t afford for your followers to be in the dark or assume they’re going to learn about your promos elsewhere.

Some brands might be wary of pushing products to hard on social media. That said, the majority of consumers‘ purchasing decisions are influenced by the brands they follow.

Additionally, consistently publishing coupon codes, offers and discounts is fair game for encouraging impulse buys. If nothing else, striking product photos are prime Instagram content that doesn’t come off as “salesy” if they’re presented with some creative flair. Check out how ShopBop makes it happen.

Speaking of cross-promotion, consider that any given retailer’s email list is their bread and butter for encouraging repeat business. With an engaged email list and social following, brands have more opportunities to nurture customers and keep them in the loop about their latest promotions. Here’s how ShopBop puts their Instagram feed front-and-center via their email newsletter.

3. Gather feedback from your social customers

Of course, social media for retail isn’t just as simple as blasting offers and deals.

Although customers are more than happy to follow retailers in pursuit of a sale, your long game should be to sell your brand beyond your products.

This means figuring out your brand identity and making connections with customers. Perhaps one of the easiest and most effective ways to do so is through asking questions.

What sort of products do people want? What sort of content do they want to see? Whether through Instagram Stories or question-based posts, picking people’s brains is easier than ever. Additionally, question-based content encourages replies and interactions which are like candy to modern social algorithms.

The feedback gathered from customers can not only inform your content and product strategies but also serve as a break from purely promotional content. Retailers like Best Buy do an awesome job of asking playful questions while subtly featuring their products at the same time.

See how that works?

4. Dedicate time to providing social customer service

Food for thought: customer service concerns are among the top reasons that consumers engage with retailers on social media.

And so if you’re equipped to handle such concerns, you’re golden. Consider that there is no “one-size-fits-all” for customers to reach out, though. Here’s a snapshot of why customers reach out to retailers via our 2019 Social Index.

Effective social media for retail means listening and responding to customer concerns with care. This means both personalizing your replies while also responding in a timely manner. As noted in our guide to Twitter customer service, 60% of people expect a response within an hour.

Don’t think of responding to such concerns as customers being needy, though. The ability to respond with grace spells good news for your brand as you strive to keep customers around for the long-haul. Check out how Publix manages to address a reasonable concern while still scoring a “Like.”

In fact, companies like Publix have managed to make stellar customer service part of their online identity.

Social customer service isn’t just about addressing questions and complaints. Customer care also means giving customers shout-outs to highlight their positive experiences. As noted by our data, that’s the top reason why customers reach out: capitalize on those moments and let them serve as social proof for your brand.

The more you’re able to highlight your satisfied customers, the better.

The takeaway here is that customer service can’t be an afterthought for retailers. Through consistent monitoring and social listening, you can make sure those precious mentions don’t fall by the wayside.

5. Listen for trends to influence your product and content strategies

Speaking of listening, social media retail trends are constantly changing.

Brands are constantly experimenting with new ways to engage with followers. At the same time, competitors and new products are constantly flooding any given retail space which speaks to the need for brands to have a strong pulse on their industries.

Sprout’s social listening suite includes a query builder where brands can easily monitor mentions, hashtags and industry-related keywords to better track what customers are buzzing about.

 

More advanced listening features in Sprout can also help retailers monitor their brand sentiment and mentions to ensure healthy, positive growth in engagement over time.

Beyond questions and concerns, your customers can be a goldmine of business intelligence on social media. It’s all a matter of making sure you’re listening, though.

6. Curate user-generated content to promote your satisfied customers

Easily one of the biggest needs when it comes to social media for retail, brands need to be on the hunt for user-generated content (UGC)

Even retail giants like Target (with nearly 4 million Instagram followers) rely on UGC to show off their products.

Customer photos are noted to increase conversions and engagement among social followers. Your customers want to talk about their latest purchases, granted you give them a chance to do so.

For example, Target encourages followers to @mention them within posts which allows followers to be featured in their feeds.

Meanwhile, Anthropologie uses the branded hashtag #myanthropologie to entice customers to post their photos.

Whether it’s for an influencer marketing campaign or simply encouraging UGC, retailers these days are expected to create their own hashtag to encourage organic promotion on behalf of their followers. Doing so provides yet another avenue for customers to engage with your brand and vice-versa.

7. Make social shopping as seamless as possible

As noted by the number of brands totally killing social media for retail, encouraging purchases directly from social media is more than possible.

However, it’s not as simple as dropping product links and walking away.

If you want to increase your social media conversion rate, you’re going to need to make shopping a seamless experience.

For example, let’s look at how easy Crate and Barrel makes shopping their Instagram feed. Their bio link call-to-action is loud and clear, as is their social-specific landing page which makes it a cinch to browse products.

 

Ideally, you want to keep your customers moving from Point A to Point B rather than bouncing between a bunch of links and re-directs. Even if you don’t use a third-party tool for social shopping, making your social landing pages scrollable and mobile-friendly is a must-do.

Additionally, note that social platforms are constantly rolling out new shopping and advertising features tailored for social media for retail. For example, the recent roll-out of Instagram checkout signals how networks are trying to make it easier for brands to encourage purchases. Here’s a snapshot of the feature from Crate and Barrel’s feed.

 

8. Remarket to current and former customers

Of course, we can’t talk about social media for retail without discussing paid ads.

With social algorithms seemingly cracking down on purely promotional organic posts, running ads allows retailers to appeal to customers without running the risk of spamming them.

The good news is that retailers can personalize and target their advertising like never before. Brands can run campaigns to prospect for new customers or reach out to returning customers simultaneously.

For example, Facebook and Instagram’s dynamic ads can reach former customers or folks on your email list who you’re looking to reactivate. Such ads serve as a cost-effective way to reintroduce your brand to customers and are likewise noted for their high ROI. This retargeting campaign from Gathre resulted in a staggering 91% return on ad spend.

9. Don’t forget your physical packaging

If you’re a retailer, you have a distinct opportunity to make a lasting impression on your customers in-person.

This can be done by combining your social presence with your physical packaging if possible. From stickers and business cards to quite literally wrapping up your products with your social handles, there are tons of creative ways to couple social media with in-person promotion. Here’s an awesome example from Vistaprint.

Even something as simple as a branded business card snuck into your shipped orders is a smart move. Retailers can’t be shy about promoting their social presence and in-person creatives are one of the most meaningful ways to do it.

10. Increase your customer lifetime value over time

The end-game of social media for retail is to nurture customers and encourage them to become long-term shoppers.

In other words, you can’t afford to solely focus on acquisition. Growing your follower count is nice, but ask yourself: is your social presence resulting in long-term engagement and purchases?

If someone is willing to follow your brand, they’ve already signaled their interest to make a purchase. This highlights the need to promote offers while also connecting with a diverse content calendar. As noted by the examples above, retailers have a ton of creative options available for regularly engaging their target audiences.

At the same time, think about how you can increase what your social following is worth over time.

Ramp up your efforts during the holidays where consumer spending is at an all-time high. Run influencer marketing and UGC campaigns. Try your hand at social ads.

And along the way, make sure you’re keeping a close eye on engagement via social analytics. By tracking your growth and engagement by the numbers, you can better understand what’s encouraging purchases from your followers over time.

 

And with that, we wrap up our guide!

How are you using social media for retail?

There’s no denying that retailers have their hands full in terms of their social presence.

But as we said, retailers have the most to gain from social media at large.

From uncovering new customers to increasing the value of the ones you already have, the amount of creative business opportunities available to retail brands on social media is seemingly endless.

And with the help of tools such as Sprout Social, brands can run and monitor their campaigns by-the-numbers to win more customers along the way.

We want to hear from you, though. What do you see as the future of social media for retail? Any challenges that you’ve faced in pursuit of more business? Let us know in the comments below!