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Using Social Media: the small business experience

I'm hoping to offer some insight into how a small but growing and ambitious multi-channel retailer intends to use social media to promote our online brand, The Emporium Direct - I am by no means an expert in social media nor is my organisation's present social media activity up there in comparison to the big brands.  But I do run our marketing, therefore I can share hands-on experience on what has worked for us and what we're planning.

Before I get to how we're using social media, here is a brief snapshot of our organisation.

Company Background

We have a large High Street store in Maldon, Essex and a growing e-commerce business, The Emporium Direct.  Like many, we originally started trading on eBay, then moved onto Amazon and eventually our own website.

Marketplace tips

Our success has been down to the following:

  • Selling a mixture of niche, general and branded products - this allows us to enter multiple markets, gain additional traffic and custom all year round as opposed to only certain times of the year
  • Having multiple marketplace accounts - the internet is an ever-expanding net therefore the more stores and/or products you have floating out there the more likely you will sell
  • Aspiring to the highest standard of customer service - just because you sell online does not mean customer service should waiver - maintain excellent customer at all times
  • Trading in retail for over 25 years, we have a wealth of experience, contacts and know-how and we apply this to our e-commerce business

Despite being fairly successful on our marketplace accounts, it is increasingly clear that unless you are a large, well-known brand coupled with equally large resources, selling and converting sales online through your own direct website is no easy task.  However, it is a great challenge and one we plan to get to grips with after the busy Christmas trading period.

Why Social Media?

I think it is fair to say that unless you have been hiding for the last few years, the social media revolution is here to stay and is not a force any reputable business can ignore.  We want to use social media to give our brand more personality, to engage more with customers, to create open dialogue with them and promote our business as well other local businesses near us.  Facebook in particular is great for this.

One suggestion of ours is to start including more images and videos of key areas of interest in the historic, market town of Maldon, Essex which is situated on the Blackwater estuary and surrounded by beautiful countryside with myriad places of interest.  Some might argue that doing this is a waste of time and money.  However, and as stated above, we are not using social media to bombard customers with products, it is more about engagement, community and giving our brand the personality we know it has.

Another point to consider  (I read the post on Smart Insights and similar here) is that search engines are now using social media activity as a ranking factor therefore once again, creating relevant useful content becomes increasingly important.

My final point, and similar to the other guests' posts regarding the travel industry, is that the retail industry is also going through a revolution.  The worst trading conditions for many years, if not ever, coupled with the internet, have transformed the entire business environment.

Using social media is a great way for businesses, particularly SME's, to engage with customers and promote their brand at minimal costs.  Although the costs may be minimal (free to setup social media accounts and only time to update them), we believe the strategy and use of social media are only worth our investment providing we adhere to the following methods:

  • Create a community allowing open dialogue between our business and customers
  • Provide useful content such as: photos and videos of our business and the surrounding area, product reviews, customer reviews, business opinions and any other information useful to our business and customers
  • Avoid pushy sales onto people - we believe social media is a place where people want to be totally honest with one another and do not want to be bombarded with commercialism

The following are our main social media priorities in the coming year:

  • F-Commerce (Facebook store): Facebook offers huge viral marketing potential.  We already have a Facebook business page and are in the process of adding our Facebook store.  This allows our Facebook fans to buy from our website, comment, tell their friends, review, post photos and anything else that acts as an online place for sharing relevant content between our business and them.
  • Facebook page: We have started adding photos of Maldon and the surrounding area and are promoting our High Street, business partners and anything else related to this lovely area.  We would also like to run campaigns on here too.  Our Facebook page is more for community, open dialogue and genuine interaction, not sales bombardment.  We have Facebook profiles ourselves so respect the fact not many people want to be always bothered.
  • Foursquare: As the web transitions into web 3.0, we believe we need to look at location marketing.  Foursquare is perfect for this as it allows users to discuss, tag and share our businesses content directly to their phone.  For example, we could run a campaign whereby the first person to check-in at our High Street store through their mobile device receives a discount, a free product or voucher for use in one of town's lovely coffee shops and cafes. There are numerous ways marketers can promote their business and engage with fans but it is essential that as a business we look into this now so we can gain experience in this new area of digital marketing.
  • Twitter: We will use Twitter for relevant updates and links to our content.  The popularity of Twitter indicates that we cannot ignore this social media powerhouse even though the two above appear more commercially useful at present.
  • LinkedIn: We will use LinkedIn to create a professional profile for our business and make relevant updates when necessary.
  • Hootsuite: Hootsuite is the excellent software that allows digital marketers to manage and populate these channels since this gives a single place to update the profiles with analytics.  And it's free!

 

Conclusion

I am definitely not an expert on social media marketing.  However, from the little experience I do have, I believe businesses should provide relevant and useful content to users but not with the sole intention of trying to gain sales.  Using this approach, you can help shape your brands' personality, engage and interact with customers, give your business a fantastic public relations platform and also improve your website search engine results position.

By Expert commentator

This is a post we've invited from a digital marketing specialist who has agreed to share their expertise, opinions and case studies. Their details are given at the end of the article.

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