Are You a Social Butterfly?

Could social media give your business a boost? In the latest feature on marketing for pet retailers, our expert Alison Gallagher-Hughes looks into why social engagement should be an essential part of the marketing mix for bricks and mortar outlets.

Do you remember life before social media? When life was more ‘simple’ and people weren’t glued to their phones? It’s a practice that has become a way of life. Last year, the average person spent approximately 2.5 hours per day on social media, but for all its apparent negatives, there are a host of positives that can work well for business, and retailers in particular.

Running a business can be all-consuming and for those of us who are time-poor, social media can seem like yet another thing to do. But with a little planning, thought and commitment, it can pay dividends by extending our reach and visibility.

Social media is about connectivity — engaging with others — our suppliers, our customers, our prospects, encouraging advocacy by prompting others to talk about our great customer service, products, and shopping experience. These drivers say something about you: your purpose, values, and commercial offer, delivered with an authenticity that helps people believe in your brand and interests them in what you have to offer.

Part of a bigger picture

So how does social media fit in with the wider marketing mix and how does organic social content dovetail into a wider landscape of paid advertising?

All digital marketing links to our promotional P (one of 7 Ps in the marketing mix – product, price, place, promotion, people, processes and physical evidence) but social is personal and therefore about ‘people’ too. As the original ‘me media’, it can be disseminated across many levels and provides a great opportunity for all to contribute, including staff and customers.

The digital marketing environment is vast, enabled by evolving technologies, it is becoming smarter and more intuitive. But the basics are still key marketing staples: from email marketing and transactional websites to online PR and social media. There are greater opportunities to communicate with immediacy than ever before.

The social effect

Social media is forever changing: channels come in and out fashion — who remembers MySpace and Vine, for example? Others lose their original identity as they adopt the functionality, look and feel of their competitors. Even the demographics change – early adopters get older and their channels of choice reach maturation, while newbies such as TikTok step in and capture the youth market.

From a business perspective, it’s important to consider who your audience is, and which channels they are most likely using. Every business will have its segments and some platforms, like LinkedIn, focus more on business-to-business (B2B), while others are primarily more consumer-led. The trick is to choose your channels wisely and tailor your content to suit.

How many is too many?

It’s not necessary to have a presence on every social media platform. Social media can be time-consuming, especially if you spread yourself too thin. So, handpick two or three that are most relevant.

Having a ‘presence’ is just the start, once committed it’s important to maintain continuity and undertake social listening as well as chat. Consider this as market research and customer service rolled into one — you can check out the competition and manage customer enquiries at the touch of a button (or scroll of a thumb).

For most retailers, Facebook is a given. It remains the world’s most popular social network. As of June 2021, there were 50.53 million Facebook users in the United Kingdom alone. This was almost 5.2 million more than the year before. The largest single demographic is the Millennial (25 — 34 year-olds), one third of whom are already pet owners, which make up 25 percent of this number. Older adults (aged 35-65+), equate to a staggering 53 per cent of Facebook’s users. So, whether you are a bricks and mortar store, with or without an e-commerce site, or an e-commerce business without a physical outlet, it makes sense that Facebook is a good place to start.

Creating a presence

Take some time to get the basics right: create your page (for Facebook, this must be linked to a personal account), complete the ‘about us’ section (tedious but all important for customers to see things like your opening times and location) and add a profile and banner image – visual anchors help others to immediately recognise your page. 

You can now create a ‘news feed’ for your page by liking other pages and groups as your business. This provides you with a view of what’s happening in your locality, related media, local charities, sector etc, and gives you an instant platform on which to engage with others.

Frequency and continuity of posts is important but you can avoid having to be on social media all the time with a little planning. Content generally falls into proactive and reactive, and the former can be scheduled using Facebook’s Business Suite which allows you to prepare posts in advance of them being published. If you are managing more than one channel, you can do the same using scheduling tools such as HootSuite, Buffer, or Social Sprout, for a small monthly or annual subscription.

Reactive is the type of content that you may decide to post in addition to your planned posts — something urgent or timely that you may want to highlight in real time or by responding to other user generated content.

Customers will be able to make enquiries by responding to posts or by messaging your page privately via the direct messaging function. For convenience you may want to access these messages though the Business Suite app on your mobile — this helps keep them allocated to a particular page.

The rule of thirds

So, what to post? In his book, ‘Rule of Thirds’, digital specialist Neil Wilkins, talks about the importance of striking a balance in the type of content posted and applying a rule of thirds approach — a concept used widely in art and photography — to ensure that the overall picture is well constructed and balanced.

He uses three Ps (yes, more Ps) — personal, point, and promotion — to chunk up themes for content creation:

• Personal helps people get to know you personally: your team, the face of your organisation — the people with whom they might engage. People like to do business with people and conveying the personal helps you highlight your differential over faceless e-commerce brands, including your knowledge, expertise, customer service, and personality and that of your team.

• Point is about signposting other people’s content rather than your own. Third party content can be a rich source of ideas, opportunities, and inspiration which can be shared and repurposed with your own comments. For example, this could include content on new products from brands that you stock, events, or promotions within your local area, expert opinion on feeding, animal welfare, or social change. Make sure that you read the original post thoroughly to ensure that you are comfortable with what you are advocating through sharing. If you are using Twitter, creating themed lists can be a great way of keeping this content in view as a read source of material.

• Promote — having applied the layers of other content, your audience will be more willing to accept overt ‘promote’ content but be subtle in how you undertake this. Put yourself in the position of your customer. What might interest them at this time? Think about applying context — your suppliers may already be talking Christmas goods with you during the heat of summer, but you need to be posting about doggy ice cream, cool mats, and kitty water fountains, to tap into the psychology of what people need in the here and now.

Beating the algorithms

There’s a lot of talk about whether the odds are stacked against business pages and if your content can cut through without monetisation (pay per click, paid advertising, and social shopping). The answer is yes! Social media is constantly changing its algorithms to ensure that individuals see ‘meaningful content’ but business pages can still be seen by making themselves relevant.

No man is an island. It’s the same with social media, it’s not enough just to post to your page. You need to add your ingredients to the social ‘cocktail’. So, here’s a few ways you can mix it up:

• Hashtags and handles — hashtags are a way of tagging keywords within your posts. When people search for those words your posts will appear in return. Adding handles –— the @NAME OF PAGE — for another business/brand will also extend the reach of your post to those following their social activity.

• Groups and pages — remember the point about creating a news feed for your page? This is where it pays dividends. You can join groups as your page so when you have created a post, you can share it with relevant groups to extend the opportunity for others to see it

• Social advocacy — encourage others to like your page and share your posts. A great way of achieving this is by running competitions. This can pick up a great deal of traction with a caveat that the entrant must like, comment on the post, and share it in order to submit their entry. Also ask customers to review your service on social and other digital platforms, such as Google My Business.

• Timing — there are certain times of the day/week when you will get greater pick-up from your posts than others. This will depend on the social media platform that you are using and this varies all the time depending on seasonality. Most scheduling tools will provide you with an option to automate the scheduled timing of your posts to optimise these opportunities. Alternatively, review your analytics and see what is working best for you.

• Stories and lives — these methods harness the power of the visual (something which should be included within all posts). ‘Stories are short-lived, but they can leave a lasting impression on viewers and brand followers by showcasing the people and meaning behind an organisation in a more laid-back and authentic way’, according to leading social research company GWI. Like Twitter, they are transient, but unlike Twitter this function uses images and video to propel the message and convey a sense of urgency. Likewise, the live function can allow you to stream video content to capture a moment in time — opportunities to encourage others to share those moments and be part of the experience.

• Tell people that you have a social presence — signpost your page and encourage more page views by including your social icons on other promotional materials: your signage, till receipts, flyers, and carrier bags.

Review and evaluate

Finally, make a point of viewing your analytics every month. There is usually an insights section within every social media channel and some scheduling tools will also provide these reports. Yes, this is another task on your never-ending to do list but it has practical value. It shows you at a glance what is working best: the type of post, levels of engagement, and when it was posted. Consider it as free business intelligence to help inform and guide you moving forward.

Don’t get too hung up on Likes: it may seem an obvious indicator of success but it’s quality not quantity that counts. Your presence is there to engage and influence — the AIDA principle applies. The route from customer Awareness, Interest to Desire and Action (sales) is your ultimate destination…and social media will help you retain those customers too.