Social Media Campaign May be the Right Tool for Small Businesses

A lot of Baby Boomers and even some Generation Xers think social media is home to texting teenagers, mindless meams and idle chatter. But retailers are finding out using social media for small businesses is a perfect tool to find new customers and drive sales. Here are some interesting facts and suggestions on how to use a social media campaign to improve your business.

The truth is there are a lot of people from all generations using social media for a variety of reasons. Social Media Today says there are approximately 2.8 billion active social media users worldwide, a figure that in 2017 was a 22% increase over the previous year.

A Pew Research Center study shows 7-in-10 Americans use social media to reach family and friends, read the news, and share with each other. That is a 64% increase over 2005 when the organization began studying social media.

The steady increase is across the board in all generations. While the youngest demographic measured in the study, ages 18-29, would obviously show the most dramatic increase – from 7% in 2005 to 88% now – all age groups have shown similar gains. Even the oldest generation, 65-plus, has increased from 5% in the first year of the study to 37% today. Those numbers should pique the interest of any business owner and demonstrate that using social media for small businesses works well.

Social media offers another great portal for your customers to keep in contact with you, and it makes you more relevant.

Steve Wilke

marketing and communications specialist, McGukin Hardware

At the 2017 State of Independents Conference organized by the North American Retail Hardware Association in December, research showed that 65% of consumers say if an item they need is available both online and at a nearby store, they preferred to pick up the merchandise at the store. On the flip side, 38% of those same consumers who shop for home improvement products more than once per month, say they begin their shopping effort online, researching prices and searching for promotions before heading to a local store.

The NRHA 2016 Social Media Study shows 86% of hardware store owners who participated use a social media campaign to promote their small business. Of those, 99.5% are on Facebook, 32% use Twitter, and 27% utilize Yelp. Pinterest (24%), LinkedIn (19%) and Instagram (14%) rounded out the top six platforms.

These numbers show that small business participation in website marketing and social media is more important than ever. While websites can offer a digital platform to advertise your company’s location, retail offerings and promotions, social media is necessary to interact with your customers, an increasingly important way to drive sales.

Know Your Demographic

The key to social media marketing is knowing who your customers are. Facebook is more popular with older customers, while Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest appeal to younger people. According to the Pew study, 41% of people 65 and older use Facebook, while just 18% use Instagram and Twitter combined. For the 50-64 age group, 65% use Facebook, while Instagram and Twitter combine for 40%.

In an interview with Hardware Retailing, Jared Sawyer, owner of Sawyer’s True Value & Just Ask Rental in The Dalles, Oregon, says: “If you’re in a large metro area and your business is mostly B2B, you might want to be really involved on Twitter and LinkedIn to find professionals and communicate with them. If you’re in a college town, you will want to be on younger demographic platforms and talk to them in a way that’s meaningful to them.”

In his market, Sawyer says less than 5% of his customers are millennials and the majority are older, so he focuses on Facebook as his social media campaign.

McGukin Hardware in Boulder, Colo., is another venerable business that has been able to thrive by adapting to new ways of doing business. The store opened in 1955 and has grown to feature a 60,000-square-foot facility with 18 departments. Social media is a major part of its reach with close to 20,000 followers on Facebook and another roughly 4,500 on Twitter and Instagram combined.

“Social media offers another great portal for your customers to keep in contact with you, and it makes you more relevant,” Steve Wilke, McGukin’s marketing and communications specialist, told Hardware Retailing. “Creating new content helps you stay fresh, and maintaining those avenues of communication keeps customers coming back.”

Social media and small businesses aren’t one-size-fits-all, and there are some factors retailers should consider before taking the plunge.

Determine Who is Managing Your Account

Once you commit to starting your social media marketing effort, you should designate somebody responsible for handling posts and responses to questions and inquiries. Hardware Retailing suggests you consider using scheduling tools to organize posts. Facebook has a built-in scheduling tool. Hootsuite and TweetDeck are a couple of other examples.

The NRHA study shows 42% of businesses assign the social media duties to a full-time employee, while nearly 3% hire a full-time staffer dedicated to nothing but website maintenance and social media. Some 22% of owners handle the work themselves, and approximately 10% farm out the work to an outside agency or freelancer.

Content is the Spice of Life

Variety is key and it should also define your social media content. You can post photos of shoppers or people at store events, how-to videos, do-it-yourself tips-of-the-day, and information about new products, which are all extremely valuable. Pinterest is a great site for posting DIY projects, holiday gift ideas and more.

Meag Shaffer, executive vice president of social media at Kel & Partners, told Hardware Retailing that video posts and advertising are two key methods for capturing your customers’ attention. She says costly production budgets aren’t necessary for producing Facebook-worthy videos, and suggests using Facebook Live or Instagram Live to post videos and engage with your customers.

Surprisingly, just 30% of hardware store owners in the NRHA study use social media calendars to plan and schedule posts.

Engage with Your Customers, Community

One of the key reasons to get involved in social media marketing is to engage with your customers in real time, and the key to that engagement is promptly responding to questions, comments and requests. Approximately 80% of retailers who use social media and responded to the NRHA 2016 Social Media Study indicated they respond to all social media comments, positive or negative.

A great way to get people involved in your social media campaign is to give something away. Contests or sweepstakes are proven methods of increasing your followers.

It’s also important to let in-store customers know where you post. Information about where you post on in-store signage or on sales receipts increase the chances of your business being found and followed.

Community engagement is also key to developing a loyal local following. McGukin assists Boulder organizations such as Meals on Wheels and the Humane Society of Boulder Valley in their fundraising efforts.

“We pick an organization to sponsor each month, and for 10 days during that month, we ask customers to round up their purchases to the next dollar, and that money goes to the organization,” Wilke says.

Consider Advertising

As Shaffer mentions, it doesn’t hurt to dedicate a portion of your advertising budget to social media. Facebook is filled with advertising content that can target specific demographics. Emily Stine, of Stine Home + Yard in Natchez, Mississippi, tells Hardware Retailing that 20% of their annual advertising budget goes to social media, and they use it to drive potential customers to their website.

Not long ago, Stine used a Facebook advertising campaign to display tools and it resulted in a 40% increase in sales. Another Facebook effort, a sweepstakes, allowed the business to collect over 10,000 emails and approximately 100,000 “likes” over a four-year period.

Approximately 42% of hardware store owners include social media in their advertising budget.

Respondents to the NRHA survey offer a mixed bag of results for social media and their small business. Over half track their social media results using their platform’s analytics systems. However, just 1.5% rate their business’ social media presence as excellent. Nearly 53% said their presence is Very Good or Good, while 45.8% say it is Fair or Poor.

Most hardware stores (64%) say they do not have a social media presence because they lack the manpower to create and maintain the sites, while another 39% claim it is just too time intensive. Of those using social media, most plan to increase their number of posts, expand to more platforms, use social media paid advertising more and assign an employee to handle their accounts.

With the rapid rise in popularity of social media steadily across all demographics, and its proven ability to reach new shoppers and engage loyal customers, anyone looking for ways to drive new business to their store might find it is the right tool for the job.

Brian Bullock

Author