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How to use social media for your business

Develop your brand profile and build great relationships with your customers through social media


There are currently 3.6 billion people on social media, and the number is expected to rise to 4.4 billion by 2025. That’s essentially over half the world’s population at your fingertips. Social media has now become too important to ignore, which explains why 90% of businesses have a presence on at least one of the major social networks.

For retailers, social media makes the globe a little bit smaller and offers you the chance to sell products and services, interact with customers and build your brand profile. And yet, too often, retailers are left scratching their heads, wondering why their approach to social media isn’t proving successful.

When used correctly, however, social media is a platform where you can gain traction and power up your brand. It generates leads, humanises your company, builds partnerships, becomes a PR tool, sources data, measures competition and is a way to stay on top of industry news.

It can be transformative for retailers but needs a solid strategy and long-term commitment. So, how do you win on social media? If you’re eager to use it as a tool to drive business but aren’t currently seeing the desired results, this guide is for you.

We’ve pulled together detailed tips on how you can use social media for your retail business and get on the right track. Turn your account from a place where you occasionally post to somewhere that resonates with customers and acts as an effective marketing tool.

Decide on the right platforms

Before launching a social media strategy, first, you’ll need to understand what makes your audience tick. Don’t make assumptions about where they spend their time online. It’s easy to think that Gen Z is on TikTok and not Facebook. Or that Instagram is the best platform to reach a broad range of ages.

Social media demographics aren’t always straightforward, however. Data shows that nearly a quarter of Facebook users are aged between 18 and 24, a figure that doesn’t necessarily align with its narrative of being a place solely for older audiences.

Each social network has its own unique use, and differentiating audiences is vital to successful marketing campaigns. For example, the LinkedIn audience is bound to be markedly different from Instagram’s. Understanding the nuance is vital for striking a chord with followers.

Understand audience profiles
The more insights you have about your audience, the better the decisions you’ll make about which social media platform to give your focus. That doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to only one social network, as there is a learning curve involved, and you’ll need to see what works best for your retail business by testing different platforms.

There’s no all or nothing approach – you can try different channels until you find the one that works best for your company. The average internet user has 8.4 social media accounts, so there’s a good chance that your audience uses a handful of platforms.

That means you could essentially use one social media account for building an audience, another to test PPC campaigns and a third for customer service. Then, once you’ve seen which one performs best, you can refocus your attention and give one or two platforms priority over others.

In order to find the right audience, it’s worth knowing how each social media network operates and the core demographics:

1) Facebook

Users: 2.8 billion

Audience: Generation X and millennials

Industry type: Business to consumer (B2C)

2) Twitter

Users: 200 million

Audience: Millenials and some Generation Z

Industry type: Business to consumer (B2C) and Business to Business (B2B)

3) Instagram

Users: 1.3 billion

Audience: Millennials and Generation Z

Industry type: B2C

4) Linkedin

Users: 740 million

Audience: Baby boomers, Generation X and millennials

Industry type: B2B

5) YouTube

Users: 2.29 billion

Audience: Millennials and Generation Z

Industry type: B2C

6) Snapchat

Users: 240 million

Audience: Generation Z

Industry type: B2C

7) Pinterest

Users: 454 million

Audience: Baby boomers, Generation Z, and Millennials

Industry type: B2C

8) TikTok

Users: 1 billion

Audience: Generation Z

Industry type: B2C

Finding the sweet spot
The mix of brands advertising across social media is encouraging, as it shows there’s a market for all types of companies. Once you better understand your target audience and where they reside online, you can start building a social media strategy on the right platform.

You will probably already have a solid grasp of your audience. Now you need to translate that to social media, understanding how they spend time online. From there, you can start implementing a strategy and start building your brand on social media.


The Importance of data

Return on investment (ROI) will always be the primary marker to judge the success of your output, and it’s no different on social media. One of the best ways to determine success is through the application of data.

Around 55% of businesses cite ROI as an ongoing problem when deriving value from social media. That might be because social media doesn’t tend to offer quick payoffs – sometimes, it’s necessary to play the long game.

Fortunately, the data points available are always improving, and businesses can now gain insights into performance on a real-time basis in just a few clicks. This makes it easier to judge success and create clearer KPIs for your social media outreach.

Social media data in today’s landscape
Social media offers metrics and statistics that enable you to understand how consumers behave. The data is collected from social networks and informs you how users share, view, and engage with your content.

Each statistic offers the chance to dive a little deeper into your customer’s profile, which you can turn into marketing content when creating a social media strategy.

Typical social media data is broken down into different segments:

Likes - people who like your social media post

Shares - users who share your content with their followers

Comments - people leave a comment on one of your posts

Mentions - when you’re mentioned in other social media posts

New Followers - the number of new followers you gain in a specific period

Impressions - people who see your social media content

Keyword analysis - the success rate of your keywords

Hashtag usage - the number of people interacting with your hashtags

URL clicks - when people click through to a link you have included in your post

Conversions - when your content has converted someone into a customer or subscriber

Video plays - the number of people who click on a piece of video content

Leads - when people fill out a form or show interest in your product or service after interacting directly with a social media post.

The metrics provide details into day-to-day use across social media and how audiences interact with your brand. They can often be seen in real-time on the page or accessed from the analytics section in your social media account. These insights allow you to think about the type of content you want to create and why you should do it.

“The data you see on social media is the raw material that lets you build a strategy and make sense of how to approach your audience.”

More transparency with data
Data-driven approaches to social media offer more content and, in most cases, better results. Not all data is created equally, however. That means you need to find the right points that can help derive important details about social media performance.

There’s data that helps you understand how to approach social media marketing and informs you on important trends and features. Then there are vanity metrics, insights that look good but don’t dive deep enough into overall performance.

One of these is follower counts. It used to be the holy grail of social media – the higher the follower count, the more impressive the account. However, followers who don’t interact with your business other than clicking the follow button don’t offer much in terms of long term revenue growth.

Instead of focusing on followers, look at the reaction to your posts – which ones get replies, which topics gain the most traction? Take the bestperforming posts and build a strategy from these, looking at ways to create similar content and expand on topics your audience has already expressed an appetite for. Understanding the meaning behind data points allows you to analyse them in a way that creates actionable insights and more engagement with your followers.

How to analyse social media
Social media data consists of a non-stop cycle of information and statistics. From liking a post to leaving a comment, every interaction is a form of engagement with your business and should be recognised as such.

The data you see on social media is the raw material that lets you build a strategy and make sense of how to approach your audience. You need to find the nuance within the data, however. A retail company may well find that their most popular posts are ones announcing sales or the introduction of retail finance with flexible payment methods.

You can’t always have a sale on, though. That’s where diversification comes in, and you can test and learn. To illustrate, if you’re a DIY business selling tools, you can try sharing some content about how to build furniture around the home. A cooking company can focus on sharing recipes and getting its audience excited about making dishes.

Expect some trial and error in the early stages of using social media. But carry on monitoring the data, looking at the impressions, clicks, likes and comments, and you’ll start to unearth patterns that inform you of your next steps. The more data you accumulate, the more sense you can make of your marketing output.

KPIs and social media
KPIs are essential to creating a winning social media strategy that connects with your audience. There’s little use studying ROIs if the KPIs aren’t watertight, as they inform you about the metrics that will help you judge success.

You need to define the primary goal, be it audience growth, engagement with posts or direct conversion. Once you’ve done this, you can begin to get deeper insights into your audience and really start to understand what makes them tick. And it’s all led by social media data that informs and provides the tools to build campaigns that strike a chord with your audience, resulting in better output and more engagement.

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Why you need to perform social listening

Social listening and social media data work hand in hand to offer the most robust insights. With a social listening tool, you can track, analyse and respond to conversations taking place around your business. This allows you to identify trends and see how people react to your brand. Think of social listening as a form of market research on social media.

Social listening can:

  • Improve customer service
  • Find new leads
  • Identify industry trends
  • Source influencers
  • Manage your brand’s reputation
  • Perform competitor analysis
  • Social listening is also referred to as social media monitoring, and it involves using a tool to track specific keywords in your industry. Businesses use social listening to help inform their data choices and overall strategy.

Why social listening is important
Social listening offers vital information about your brand and industry, and failing to use it could make you see out on key details that can propel your business forward. If people are talking about your products and services, you’ll want to play an active part in that conversation.

And if you’re new to social media, you’ll also want to know what people are talking about in your industry and how you can contribute to the conversation.

Social listening helps you:

• Take engagement to another level, providing the opportunity to talk with customers about your brand and even source content opportunities

• See people’s opinions on your brand in comparison to competitors, which provides valuable insight into your current industry standing in the ecosystem

• Acts as the perfect tonic to learn about what competitors are doing in realtime

• Combined with social media data, social listening helps tweak your strategy so that you can respond in a timely manner

• If the tide is changing in your industry and something becomes a hot topic, you can switch gears and make sure that you’re part of the conversation

• It can also be a powerful lead-generation tool, helping identify pain points that people are talking about in regards to your industry

• Monitoring social conversations about your industry will help you recognise who the primary players are in the world of influencing

• It will also help you find people who are already excited about your brand

How to implement social listening

Keep an eye on multiple social media channels
Conversations vary from platform to platform, which is why it’s helpful having visibility over multiple social media networks. What people talk about on LinkedIn will typically have a different tone and language from conversations happening on Instagram or TikTok. Knowing where — and how — people are talking about your business and industry narrows down the social channels, leaving you to focus on where your retail business is most popular.

Competitor analysis is key
Monitoring your competitors offers clarity over trending topics within your industry. This is vital for finding out what is most important to your customers and how to go about providing them with content that isn’t a carbon copy of your main competitors.

Pay attention to the patterns
Use your learnings to address the needs of customers, whether they’re talking about a specific pain point within their shopping journey or desire a certain type of service, such as alternative payment methods or next-day shipping. This will give you an idea of trends and what’s popular amongst retail customers.

Most importantly, don’t come away with sweeping conclusions after a couple of hours’ worth of listening. Measure traction over weeks as it will give you the best chance of turning your social listening actions into a watertight method for understanding audiences.

Social media for customer service

Social media has evolved from a place where we collect likes and followers to the ideal platform for offering real-time customer service. It’s now an authentic tool for providing a five-star experience to your customers. In the world of retail, being on hand to answer queries across multiple platforms is vital for building trust and increasing customer confidence.

Sending a tweet or Facebook message is easier for many than picking up the phone or searching for your email. As a result, the number of consumers using social media to ask brands questions has seen an increase.

Good customer service doesn’t merely indicate that a brand is switched on; customers who receive responses from companies on Twitter, for example, are willing to spend up to 20% more with that business. Whether you operate in the B2C or B2B market, your customer service efforts need to be at a high level on social media.

There’s no point doing it half-heartedly, as the impact could be worse than not doing it at all. People who ask questions to businesses on social media expect swift responses, and you need to be able to provide high-calibre services.

Quick replies are vital
Users expect 24/7 responses when they reach out to a brand on a social media channel. There is an expectation that you have an ‘always switched on’ element, and research backs this up with 42% of customers expecting a response within 60 minutes. Your team needs to be ready to deal with queries, reviews, and complaints in a timely manner.

How do brands operate their customer service on social media?
Many brands have a customer success department working on social media. Others implement a social media team, while smaller businesses tend to delegate responses between team members.

Poor or slow replies might cause people to tell their friends and family about their bad experience, which results in their circle no longer using a brand and even publicly complaining on social media. As a rule of thumb: the faster you can reply to social media queries, the better chance your business has of building a good rapport with its customers.

Make the conversation a two-way one
You don’t have to wait for customers to come to you with queries – encourage them to ask questions and interact with your retail business. Let them know that you’re open to receiving queries across your social channels, showing that you’re eager to help with any issues, from questions about stock to checkout queries.

Acting in a forward-thinking manner can start you off on the right foot and make your business look approachable. It may even help unearth ideas about future products and services after empowering your customers to ask questions that reveal detailed insights on what they expect from you.

Stay positive and humanise responses
Social media can be a friendly and fun place where you get high volumes of praise for your brand. But it can also be unrelenting, with people not thinking twice before making a negative comment if they’re unhappy. It acts as a microcosm of real life, and you need to take the rough with the smooth.

However, staying positive is essential — and you should act in the same way as you would with face-to-face customer interactions, mitigating potential problems in the process. Instead of getting into a back and forth on your feed, acknowledge the issue and display care and empathy. Then try to move the complaint offline or to a private channel as soon as possible.

One of the best ways to achieve this is by humanising your responses:

• Address the customer by their name (if they give it)

• Sign off with your own name and initials

• Using names helps to provide the customer with a feeling that you’re taking accountability

Consumers are tired of faceless interactions with businesses. Social media is a way of bridging that gap and offering a layer of personalisation. The more human you come across, the higher the chance of solving issues and helping shoppers feel like they have made a genuine connection.

The overarching results of this can be immensely positive for your brand.

“Consumers are tired of faceless interactions with businesses... social media is a way of bridging that gap.”

Winning social media tactics

You have seen the methods designed to help your social strategy, but what about the tactics that turn insights into actions? All social media output will ultimately fail without strong content, no matter how good the strategy looks.

From video content to linking to blog posts, using influencers to location marketing, and implementing user-generated content, the name of the game is engagement. Using a healthy mix of these actions will help kick start your social media presence and keep up with the pace in a landscape where everything can change in a heartbeat.

The impact of video on social media over the last decade has been immeasurable, with its overall reach as a content form having a seismic effect on all mediums. Video has exploded on social media: a video-related post is now 40 times more likely to be shared than a written one. The majority of large organisations consider it to be the most important content form.

Videos grab attention in a way that text can’t. It’s easily digestible, and the largest social media platforms are aware of this. Over the years, both Facebook and Instagram have focused on video, offering feeds users can scroll through and quickly find shared content that matches their interests.

Those who succeed with video on social media can grab someone’s attention in a split second. An interesting piece of video has the power to capture the minds of those who haven’t fully opted into your brand. However, just like any other piece of content, first, you need to understand what you want to achieve.

What is the end goal when posting video content? Is there a call to action (CTA), eg getting the user to click through to the products page on your website, subscribe to an email? Or are you solely trying to increase awareness and engagement?

Driving conversion – whether it’s selling products, finding out more, etcetera – should be taken into consideration. Without having a defined concept of what you want the video to achieve, it will merely become more traffic in an already congested space.

You also need to think about which platform is best suited for your video output. While all the major social media networks facilitate video, some allow you to do more than others. Instagram TV is popular on Instagram, while Facebook video has already proven to be popular with branded videos: around 100 million hours of video are watched on Facebook every day.

Then, of course, there is YouTube – the primary social network for video content. YouTube has become the world’s second-largest search engine behind Google and can be used in multiple ways for brands. Many companies have a YouTube channel where they build a following, and retail companies, in particular, have found it beneficial for content creating product reviews or how-to guides.

No matter which direction you take, there’s no doubt that including video content in your social media marketing efforts is vital for building a successful strategy.

User-generated content
User-generated content, or UGC as it’s more commonly known, is content that has been created or produced by unpaid contributors, and it’s one of the best ways brands can engage with their audiences. Forty-eight per cent of people say UGC is a great way to discover a new topic, while a whopping 84% of millennials suggest UGC has an impact on their purchase decision.

UGC can work on any platform, but social media is where it enjoys its best moments. What better way to get your audience involved than by having them contribute with content directly? Its success has benefitted brands like Coca-Cola and Starbucks, who have seen engagement more than double with UGC campaigns.

But how do you implement UGC into your own marketing outreach on social media?

Hashtags play a significant role across social media, and they act as the perfect tonic for UGC. Most brands reach out to their followers by asking them to contribute with the use of a hashtag for their offering. Whether you’re asking your audience to send a picture or their favourite products bought at your store or record a video, getting them to use a hashtag is the best way of collating everything together in an easily manageable way. come down to costs, but it’s an added bonus – especially if budgets are tight.

UGC embraces authenticity, which is what most people crave from a business. It makes the conversation two-way, instead of a silent A-to-B transaction between brand and consumer. Authentic content has a higher chance of resonating with its audiences, and 43% of millennials rank authenticity as being particularly important with a business.

It also happens to be a cost-effective method for engaging on social media. Sourcing UGC from contributors can be cheaper than creating one piece of content in-house. The primary reason to implement UGC shouldn’t solely come down to costs, but it’s an added bonus – especially if budgets are tight.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that UGC helps to build trust between brands and audiences, which ties into authenticity. All consumers understand that brands want to sell a product or service, but how they go about it will impact whether their efforts are a success or not. UGC helps build trust as it acts as a form of “word of mouth”, and 92% of consumers are likely to trust word-of-mouth recommendations from other consumers.

Leveraging user-generated content can add a new dimension to your retail business, helping connect with audiences on a deeper level in the process. It’s why 86% of brands utilise UGC in their marketing approach.

At first glance, blogging and social media don’t seem like a clear and obvious fit. Dig a little deeper, though, and it soon becomes apparent that the art of blogging is a complementary tool for social networking: great blog posts are a way to engage followers. In contrast, social media can act as a driver to get people to read your content.

There is also an SEO aspect to take into consideration, with search engines indexing platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But creating a good ecosystem between blogs and social networks runs deeper than simply sharing a post across your chosen channel.

Most businesses operate both social media accounts and a blog page on their website. That means you already have the right tools in place to start creating a powerful mechanism that strongly resonates with your audience.

The allure of sending more traffic towards your website might be the primary goal, but using social media to discuss blog content can help create topics that your audience craves. Asking people’s opinions makes them feel more involved and like they are an active part of the conversation.

Encouraging readers to comment on the best parts — or aspects that need improvement — of your post helps foster a community. Fortunately, many blog content management systems (CMS) allow the inclusion of social buttons so that readers can share directly on social media without leaving the article. This is vital to making your audience feel included in your brand’s output.

Don’t limit your post to one social media account, either. Share your latest article on Twitter and Facebook — and LinkedIn too if you believe it speaks to a more professional audience. Then monitor the shares and likes to see which posts perform best.

Having such in-depth insights will help you get a better understanding of the type of content that generates interest. This can result in an increase in followers and tailored blog posts that speak to your audience directly. 

Location marketing
It is all about location, location, location these days, and reaching people on a micro-level is proving to be a successful tactic for retail brands, especially ones with both physical and online stores. By streamlining social media, you can cut through the noise and reach your customers within close proximity, making that overall 3.6 billion count feel much smaller if need be.

As the world gets a little bigger, we’re constantly trying to find ways to reduce its size – and location marketing helps achieve this goal. Location is more important than ever, especially in the bricks and mortar world of physical shops.

Businesses can use tools to analyse the physical foot traffic through their doors, send a notification when a customer is near a shop, and discover where local customers are spending their time. Most importantly, perhaps, is the ability to get a complete picture of your customer personas.

Geo-specific tools on social media reveal all of the social content posted within a particular radius. This can be achieved by filtering search terms via keyword, date, time and user channel. Imagine searching for a keyword about a specific product a customer is already tweeting about in your location and then letting them know you have it in stock nearby.

That’s the crux of location marketing, which provides a gateway for you to reply to that person, telling them you have the product in your nearby store. It goes further, too, with the ability to craft entire campaigns based on the information you have for local personas.

With 71% of users opting into location sharing, it’s fairly straightforward for brands to utilise the data and get better insights into their customers. That data can then be turned into ROI, which results in improved bottom lines.

Keeping an eye out for local check-ins is another way to make the most out of location marketing’s capabilities. Social networks like Facebook encourage people to share places they are located. As a retail brand, you can monetise that information. Eg, someone might check into an airport, and your business has a store at one of the terminals, meaning you can use that knowledge to encourage them to visit your shop before they hop on their flight.

Social media is a noisy place. But for many, location marketing helps your efforts and narrows the target audience. Suddenly, it all just got a little bit quieter.

Influencers have the power to get eyes on your retail business and offer more value to brands. The social media influencers can inject a new lease of life and give your brand a boost, increasing sales in the process.

Influencers are en vogue in the world of social media, with 70% of teens trusting them more than traditional celebrities. A further 49% of people depend on influencer recommendations before making a purchase. For millennials and Generation Z, influencers carry plenty of weight.

But you can’t just partner up with just any influencer to grow the reach of your brand. And with an increasing number of people trying their hand at influencing, sorting the good from the bad is no easy feat. It’s becoming a component of social media that is financially beneficial for brands and the influencer; thus, it creates more competition and more influencers as a result.

To find the best social media influencers, you need to know the goals you want to achieve. Start building out a plan of action and whether you want influencers to help with sales, brand awareness, audience building, engagement, etcetera. Map out your plan for the type of relationship you want and how that campaign fits in.

Primary types of influencer campaigns include:

• Brand ambassadors - partnering with an influencer who regularly promotes your brand.

• Gifting - providing influencers with gifts in exchange for mentions, posts etcetera.

• Affiliates - sharing codes with influencers so they earn money when someone purchases your product through them

• Sponsored content - paying influencers to share content that is related to your brand

An influencer with a broad reach can be helpful, especially if they specialise in the products you sell. Setting up Google and social media alerts can help you identify influencers who share common values with your brand. Then you can start to work through the list, find the most realistic ones and reach out to them.

Look at aspects such as engagement rate, number of followers, quality of content, and depth of niche coverage to determine whether or not an influencer is right for your offering. Once you have started working with one, it’s also vital to track results to see if you are reaching your goals and the influencer has the desired effect.

A strategically planned influencer will leverage your brand and increase reach. It’s good to be influential, and a social media influencer can help you reach a high level of engagement with your audience.


The last decade saw an explosion of digital marketing – and social media led the charge. The next 10 years will see its influence grow even further, thanks to the integration of technology like augmented and virtual reality. But for now, the key points described in this guide will provide any retail brand with a core basis to begin their social media marketing assault. Engagement is a key requirement for any business that wants to win with its social media strategies. And with the right strategy, you can turn your social media accounts into a traffic-driving machine that boosts sales and moves your retail business forward.


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