It’s safe to say that the lessons learned from the global health and economic crisis have taught society that social media is much deeper and more important than cute cat videos, “liking” a friend’s latest post, or discovering what the “influencers” have to say. When our world shut down to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, people everywhere turned to social media and the internet to learn, shop, and communicate with friends, and in doing so demonstrated how important social media marketing can be to any business.
When societies shut down, people worked from home, avoided public interaction, and chatted with friends on their smartphones rather than in person, social media filled the void. The U.S. Social Media Usage report from eMarketer shows that the average U.S. citizen increased their time on social media by 7 minutes per day and the time spent mobile messaging will grow this year to 24 minutes per day. That’s an increasingly large captive audience.
“With social media, a lot of it can be very broad–reaching a wide audience. But a lot of it can be very specific and targeted,” says Elty McMillan, digital marketing specialist at Paladin Data Corporation, a leading provider of retail technology to independent businesses. “Understanding how each platform is used is going to give you a leg up on how you use and present your content.”
Approximately 3.5 billion people in the world use social media in some form. And for those of you who think it’s a young person’s platform, 48% of those people are Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964. Facebook is the boomers’ platform of choice in this demographic with Pinterest, a good place to post photos of children or grandchildren, a distant second.
“One rule of thumb when considering social media marketing is ‘Follow the baby pictures,’” McMillan says. “People will always follow wherever the baby pictures are.”
Facebook and Instagram are the top two choices for Generation X – born between 1965 and 1980 – and millennials – born between 1981 and 1996. These numbers show the power of Facebook and how many people the platform can reach. Millennials in April 2020 passed Baby Boomers as the largest generation by population making them the top target of advertising and marketing.
HOW TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA
One of the unique aspects of social media is that it can be used, essentially at no cost, to market your business. All social media platforms have simple instructions to follow to set up pages and accounts. How you use them is up to the individual owners.
McMillan says businesses can use their social media sites to post content and grow a community of followers – “shoppers” or “customers” – and it can be used like any other media platform by posting paid advertisements that are targeted at increasing sales and brand awareness. The Digital Marketing Institute says content should include anything that attracts attention. It should entice followers to “like,” comment or share content from your pages.
- Videos, images and commentary (Adobe says 52% of marketing professionals name video as the content with the best ROI.)
- Topical posts
- Recurring or themed posts that include a popular hashtag
Content can also be used to personalize your business. Shoppers often don’t like to buy from a faceless company, although Amazon has seemed to conquer that preconception. Independent businesses can highlight their hometown involvement, company culture and ownership, and employees who are integral members of the community. These posts should include:
- Staff, owner and animal visitor photos
- In-store event photos
- Customer engagement photos
- Customer-generated content, such as testimonials or product reviews
“The whole goal is to build a community so that when they are thinking of purchasing a product or doing a DIY project, they think of your store first,” McMillan says.
Businesses can use their employees as local “influencers” to build their communities. Hardware stores can enlist their garden center staff to offer tips on spring planting. Boutiques can offer fashion or makeup advice. Pharmacies can post health and wellness tips. The possibilities are endless. Testimonials from loyal customers, especially in small markets, work, too. Kantar Media data shows 78% of consumers trust the recommendations of people in their social circles, while just 33% trust advertisements.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Along with choosing the right location for your posts – remember the old real estate axiom: Location, location. Location – timing is everything and it can make or break your content.
The lifespan of a social media post is measured in minutes not days or weeks with a newspaper ad or months with a magazine. Studies have shown that Facebook posts have a life of approximately 30 minutes. While that may sound short, consider the lifespan of the average tweet (Twitter) is slightly better than half that at 18 minutes. Those two figures make staying power of Instagram and Pinterest seem monumental. An Instagram post has a half-life of approximately 19 hours, while WebFX says the half-life of a Pinterest post is 3.5 months.
With such short attention spans, it’s not the easiest chore to decide how often to post in order to keep your content fresh and your followers following. Hubspot says that businesses with fewer than 10,000 followers did best when they posted 1 to 5 times per month, while companies with more than 10,000 followers did best when they posted between 30 and 60 times per month. McMillan recommends that smaller independent businesses place two to three posts per day to build and retain followers. Research shows the best times to post are during lunch and early evening. That’s when people are more likely to be perusing social sites.
PAY TO PLAY
While building a community of followers is well and good, selling products and services is the aim of all retail businesses. Just like taking out an ad in the local newspaper, paid advertising on social media platforms is about reaching the most people for the least cost.
According to “The State of Social Media in Retail 2019” from Hootsuite, businesses are pouring more money into social media marketing. The report says 25% of Facebook pages now use paid media and the platform accounts for 23% of total digital ad spending in the U.S. The study also shows 78% of respondents to its Social Trends Survey have invested in social advertising or plan to in the next 12 months.
Social media platforms are using their vast reach to sell more products. Facebook Marketplace has is now used in 70 countries by more than 800 million people. Instagram and Pinterest also offer shopping and selling options. Pinterest claims 83% of its users have made a purchase on the platform. Instagram claims 81% of respondents to a Facebook survey said Instagram helped them research product purchases.
“Fifty-four percent of shoppers use social media to research products. When you consider the vast number of social media users, that statistic is huge,” McMillan said.
The use of social media has been growing rapidly for many years and it has accelerated since the world was forced into quarantine. Even though the societal restrictions are easing, most business and retail experts agree that shoppers will be slow to re-enter the physical marketplace and that behaviors, such as shopping online and through social media, will continue to grow.
Using social media to build a brand and sell products was a bargain before 2020. Now, at a time when retail businesses need every tool they can find to regain customer support, it might be priceless.