The Retail Social Media Model

by Mark Smiciklas |

Retail organizations can differ greatly from traditional B2C businesses – with their dynamics presenting a series of unique opportunities and challenges around the development of social media strategy and tactical implementation.

On the plus side, retail has some inherent characteristics that are very conducive to social media. One colleague, David Ian Gray, often refers to retail as a “natural social network”, where brick and mortar stores act as community hubs – conduits for people with similar interests to gather. In addition, he feels that retail has a built-in “theatrical element” that facilitates experiences and fuels word of mouth communication – very helpful when it comes to social media.

On the minus side, retail also presents a series of organizational challenges around store operations, geographic dispersion and departmental silos – all of which can threaten the success of any social media initiative.

Retail Social Media Model - Mark Smiciklas

Department Integration – Social media touches all facets of an organization and the retail sector is no exception. What is unique, however, is the added challenge presented by store operations which are physically removed from head office. It’s essential to factor in the role of street level teams when it comes to executing a plan and subsequent social media campaign. One example might include in store calls to action – operations will play a key role in facilitating the transition from an online campaign to a positive in-store experience.

Brand Integration – Individual retail stores within a chain may be unique in how they operate, merchandise, promote and connect with local audiences. As a result, there is an increased need for retail organizations to implement social media strategies that communicate a consistent brand message across potentially different product offerings, stores, staff and events.

Shared Purpose – Retailers are known for implementing an ongoing stream of tactics, programs and promotions. In order for social media to be successful within this environment, it’s important for all stakeholders to understand the organizational purpose of any digital strategy – For example, one client produced a video (accessed by all employees via their intranet) that outlined the purpose of their social media program and how it would benefit the organization. Having all departments and front line staff connected to a strategy increases effectiveness of execution and creates a better chance for success.

Relevant Content – Front line staff have huge social media influence within the retail environment. Store level employees are directly responsible for the delivery of customer experience – the information they receive via internal social media i.e. product information, training, etc. helps position them to successfully deliver a positive customer experience. This, in turn, fuels positive word of mouth that builds brand equity. As a result, offering relevant social media content to external AND internal audiences becomes critical for retail organizations.

Social Media Planning – There are basically two overarching goals for any social media initiative…to make money or save money – These apply to the retail sector as well. But the retail environment also has some unique objectives that require an integrated effort with respect to metrics. For example, one retail social media goal might be driving traffic to store. In order to effectively measure this, retailers need to factor in offline data and have a method to correlate social media analytics with in-store performance.

Do you see any other differences between retail and B2B/B2C social media strategy models? I’d love hear your thoughts and ideas about social media in the retail sector. The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Mark Smiciklas

Mark Smiciklas is a Digital Strategist, author and President of Intersection Consulting; a Vancouver based digital marketing agency that teaches organizations how to leverage the dynamics of the web to achieve business goals. Mark is also the managing editor at Solopreneur.ca and is an established marketing and social media practitioner recognized for his visual thinking and practical strategic approach. You can connect with him on Google+.