As social media grows in popularity, many large retail companies are using platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as part of their marketing strategy. A major function for these sites is the resolution of customer service issues, and these channels can give companies a quick and effective way to respond to customer complaints. However, some retailers are leveraging their social media platforms even further to direct the conversation beyond just products or service issues. These retailers are providing consumers with lifestyle content that is not directly product related, and by promoting this larger conversation they are building the brand image in a positive way. Fun and compelling content ensures that users keep returning to interact with the brand and with each other. This type of dynamic interaction can serve multiple purposes: It builds brand loyalty, improves brand image and can serve to stimulate overall purchasing behavior.

The Whole Foods grocery chain is a leader in social media. Whole Foods evaluates each platform’s capabilities when using them to reach out to customers. Because Twitter promotes a one-to-one relationship and quick communication between brand and consumer, the company uses it for customer service inquiries and has over 1.8 million followers on their corporate Twitter feed. Twitter accounts for individual stores or departments let the company communicate with customers who are interested in specific topics such as wine, cheese or deals and events at their local store. The company uses its Facebook page as a place to disseminate rich media content including recipes, sustainability issues, health concerns and promotions or sweepstakes to over 300,000 followers. Facebook allows users to interact with the company and promotes a community where users can trade recipes, post photos and comment on each others’ posts.

Beauty retailer Sephora also encourages customers to discuss non–product-related topics on social media sites. The company’s Twitter account focuses on promoting products and responding to customer service inquiries from the company’s 84,000 followers. Meanwhile the Sephora Facebook page encourages its 700,000 fans to interact with each other, trade beauty and style information and swap product samples. Sephora also uses its YouTube channel to post videos about makeup application and runway trends, and has over 4 million views and a robust volume of comments. Content like this allows Sephora to be more than just a physical store where customers buy products. By providing relevant, useful information to customers, Sephora becomes a destination for beauty advice and manages to stay top of mind when a customer needs beauty products.

Implications and Action Items

Large companies are using social media channels in various ways: for customer service inquiries, to post relevant content and to provide lifestyle information to consumers. Posting relevant content for consumers on the platforms where they interact with each other can go a long way toward improving a company’s image in the consumer’s mind.

Here are some guidelines for using social media to disseminate non–product-related information:

  • Specify which social media platform is being used for which purpose. If a brand uses Twitter to respond to customer service inquiries, Facebook to encourage customers to interact with each other and a blog to post official content, that should be made clear to Web visitors.
  • Provide content that customers value. Encourage customers to interact with each other and the company by posting lifestyle- or interest-related content that they value. Avoid publishing content just for the sake
    of publishing.
  • Engage with customers on the social media platforms that they use, rather than creating a presence online and forcing customers to come to you.

Author: Michelle Fares, RTC Relationship Marketing