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More than 90 percent of retail brands are active on two or more social media channels. However, more than 80 percent also said that their customer engagement methods on social media need improvement. As John Andrews and Ted Rubin (PrevailingPath.com social shopper marketing leaders) explain, now is the time to “wrap your arms around the new dynamics of consumers, content, retail and connection.” One way for retailers to improve customer engagement is by implementing the proper social media strategy.

The real relationship building benefit from social media comes with creating the proper strategy. With the proper strategy in place, social media can be an incredibly useful and necessary tool for marketers in the retail space. Here are some things retailers need to consider as they establish and carry out a social media marketing strategy.

1. Use Social as a Tool to Enhance the Customer Experience

Whether you work for a small local retailer or a large national organization, social media offers you an opportunity to form and maintain a rapport between your brand and your followers and fans. Social media presents retailers with an excellent avenue for showcasing the brand’s personality. Use social channels to explain to your followers what your brand stands for and be sure to engage on a personal level. On the flip side, also be sure to leverage social media as a way to get to know your own followers by asking questions – polls are a great aid in this process.

2. Leverage Social as a Customer Service Tool

We’ve all seen retailers blasted, or have been the one to do it, when a perceived negative experience ensues. A customer has a negative experience, tags the brand that fell short, and blasts out a social media post for all to see. As a retailer, don’t just scoff and turn the other way. Take the time to address the post and immediately take the conversation out of the public view and onto a more personal level via direct message, text or email. Then ask the customer how you can help to improve their experience and follow through until the situation is resolved to the best of your ability.

Keep in mind that some people will never be made happy, no matter what you do. Remember that the customer is always right, and that mentality should be reflected in all your messages and dealings with consumers. Don’t lose sight of the importance of transparency and the fact that screen shots can be taken and shared. Nothing is private in today’s digital world.

Once the situation is resolved, don’t be afraid to ask your customer to share their positive experience and resolution on social. Social media isn’t just good for dealing with negative experiences, however. Be sure to also use it as a channel to inform your customers of sales, rewards, or anything else that might pique their interest.

3. Pay Attention to Who Interacts with Your Brand

Social media offers marketers the ability to see who favors their brand in some of the most obvious ways possible. When a visitor likes, shares, comments, or follows your brand, you can safely assume they’re interested in it to some degree. Don’t let this information go unnoticed. It’s important to note who these visitors/customers are, as they’re the ones that are most likely to provide you with honest feedback, and more importantly, spread a positive message about your brand to their own social following.

When promoting your brand on Twitter, it is imperative to create lists to keep track of those users. Lists allow you to categorize users into custom groups like “current customers,” “prospects,” “influencers,” “marketing pros” etc. Lists can be private or public and users will be notified when they are added to a public list, which goes a long way in building relationships.

4. Monitor What’s Being Said About Your Brand

As we see when we log into our own social media accounts, people are not afraid to share what’s on their minds. Whether it’s complaining about a hectic week of work or life in general, or simply showing their affinity for cats, you get to really see people for who they are on social networks. As a retailer, you should be keeping your eyes and ears open for mentions of your brand, as chances are, the things being said are coming from the heart. Listen to both the positive and negative things being said about your brand, and use it as a tool for identifying strengths and weaknesses, and making tweaks to policies or procedures as needed.

5. Embrace the Power of Visuals

Social media allows retailers to break away from conservative stock imagery that may be found on their website. As a retailer, you should be using real and interesting photos of your products whenever it’s possible on social media. Encourage your audience to submit their photos of your products in use, and even look to post real-life photos of life at your brand’s headquarters. Social media users enjoy connecting with brands on a more personal level. Posting photos or videos from inside the company’s walls is a great way to do so.

6. Choose the Social Networks That Are Right for Your Brand

There are more than 200 “major” social networking sites on the web today. Yes, 200. Now, it would obviously be impossible for a brand to stay active on hundreds of sites at once. However, as a retailer, you shouldn’t even pressure yourself to be active on each of the “giant” social media networks out there. While Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube may all seem appealing, take the time to evaluate the results of each network, and commit to the ones that are returning the results you’re looking for. From there, you can then establish robust strategies that will engage your audience and improve your brand’s reputation.

7. Implement Targeting

Paid advertising on social media can be surprisingly inexpensive, and for retailers, it could be a game changer. Are you a national retailer pushing a new line of winter hats and scarves? It may not make sense to target those in southern California or Florida. Or maybe you’re a local retailer in Arizona that doesn’t need to reach audiences in the northeast. Either way, do some research into each network’s targeting capabilities and if a small investment is needed to run some targeted ads, you won’t regret the investment when the shares, leads, and new fans and followers come in.

8. Encourage Employee Activity

Your brand shouldn’t be the only social presence stemming from your organization. Encourage those within the company to build a social following and connect with prospects on a more personal level. Allowing your audience to see and interact with the faces behind your brand will likely make them feel more comfortable when it comes time to do business. There is power in numbers and a benefit to influence derived from the honest love of a brand for which people work.

9. Keep an Eye on the Competition

Don’t forget about your competition. Analyze their efforts to see what’s working and what isn’t, and don’t be afraid to comb through their public lists of followers and those they are following. Chances are, your competition is interacting with a whole group of potential prospects that you didn’t even realize were out there.

So, What Are You Waiting For?

Social media can elevate your brand from good to great and add social proof for prospects, investors, and existing customers. While these aren’t the only ways social media can be used to benefit retailers, I hope the areas I covered can improve your business. Now, go get social!

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