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Social Media and Your Neighborhood Cheese Shop

by Susan Zweibaum on February 23, 2011

Recently, I have started “friending” some of my favorite local stores that I go to repeatedly.  I had been slow to the practice wondering what the point was (I am not one of those early adopters), but have discovered that I like seeing the updates of the “special of the week” or announcement of a big store event.  Whenever my favorite gourmet cheese shop downtown posts the special cheese they are sampling it often gets me into the store to try it and ultimately buy it.   I used to get all of these via email, but find I like the Facebook announcements.  So, what does this say about social media and how local businesses use it?

In this recent article businesses indicated that they are increasing their use of Facebook, but other sites such as Groupon, Foursquare and Living Social are not being used to their full potential.  (Click on image to go to article)

Additionally, the survey indicates that consumers do react to local deals and information to drive them into the store (just like I do).  What then is the disconnect between consumer behavior and retailer marketing methods?

What I have encountered speaking with local retailers as well as small local businesses such as real estate agents and consultants is they just don’t know what these vehicles are or how to use them.  They don’t have any real money to spend and are fearful of taking the leap.  What’s more, they are all really concerned about the time it will take to utilize things like Twitter, blogging and online offers and they claim lots of technology ignorance.

There are always early adopters both from a marketers and a consumer standpoint.  Those that fall into this early adopter camp take the biggest risk, but also can reap the biggest rewards.  The younger generation is more likely to try the new technology especially mobile marketing and these are often the ones who are spending the bucks. Moreover, it appears based on some recent research that fewer and fewer of this younger set are using email, thus, making email blasts potentially obsolete.  They use texting or email on Facebook instead so you need to talk to them where they consume the media. 

If Twitter and Facebook are getting more of the lion share of local online marketing it is most likely because they are low-cost (free), easy to master and part of our daily vernacular.

When I speak to these small retailers and small businesses I use a variety of techniques to get them into the modern age to use social media to grow their businesses. 

  1. Help them get over their fears:  Not easy, but it is a matter of not just explaining how things work, but actually demonstrating the ease and speed with which these things can be done.  Share some data on success stories and survey data and they will be more easily swayed.
  2. Provide a reasonable timeline:  Building a large enough database through viral marketing techniques takes time.  Even if they use their email list to drive more eyes to the offers it will take a while for those other than the early adopters to start acting.  Don’t expect an immediate response.
  3. Test Offers:  Building on the “it takes time” idea, the first offer doesn’t always work.  It often takes a few different offers until you find the one that will resonate with consumers and drives them to purchase. Keep trying until one gets the ROI they want.
  4. Start Slow and Add On:  If the business is entering social media for the first time they should start slow and get comfortable.  Most likely they have a website.  Start by adding Facebook and Twitter and connecting to the website.  Get them familiar with the vehicles and then slowly add on additional offer sites.  Balance it with some SEO and paid search at a local level where they are more open to spending.  Then test replacing a direct mail piece with an online offer.  Show the potential ROI of doing the social media over the direct mail.  It will probably be very eye opening for them.

Eventually, from a retail perspective it all comes down to customer service, product offerings in store and the economy.  Do those things right and you have a great chance to succeed.  Additionally,  if local retailers then leverage emerging social media marketing tactics as a way to drive growth on top of  the basics they are more likely to increase their success.

Would love to hear of examples of how social media has driven local retailer success.

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