How the Small Retailer Can Use Social Media

Using Social Media for the Small RetailerAs a social media coach, it always baffles me when I hear the small business owner question how and why they need a social media strategy.  And I do hear it a lot.  Especially from retail owners.  As I was getting ready today, I picked up a bottle of Sephora lotion.  Holding it in my had, I looked at the name Happy Birthday Beautiful Vanilla Birthday Cake Lotion.  As I stared at the bottle, it hit me.  Sephora had it right.

The reason I had the body lotion was because my birthday is next week and I received my yearly, happy birthday e-mail from Sephora letting me know that I could come in and pick up my free birthday gift (the lotion).   I’m always excited to get a free (no purchase necessary) gift so this past weekend I braved the Christmas crowds, went down to the mall and walked into Sephora.  I’m not sure if you have ever been to Sephora but (for me, anyway) it’s impossible to walk in without taking way too much time to look at tall the new beauty products, creams, lotions, nail polishes and stuff.  So, before I went to the register to get my free (no purchase necessary) gift, I had a look around.  Needless to say I left the store with my free birthday gift, along with a big bag of other (not so free) goodies.  I had done well. But so had Sephora.

Retail use of social mediaThe Gap has it right, too.  I get weekly e-mail coupons from them ranging from 15-60% off products storewide. I use these coupons religiously when I shop. By incorporating social media as part of their marketing strategies, these large retail owners have made sure, through accumulating large e-mail lists and offering low and no cost incentives to those who frequent their store, that they are always on their customers minds.

But how, as a small business owner, can you compete with these retail giants? One of the benefits of creating and maintaining an effective social media strategy is that, with a bit of hard work and perseverance, it doesn’t need to cost a lot.  Whenever I go downtown, I make a stop at my favorite ice cream shop.  By using Foursquare to check in, I get 10% of my order.  By liking the Facebook page of an independent gas station in my area, I receive updates of when the gas is going to be offered at a lower price. I can print out online coupons from a pretty good (not the best – but the best offers no incentives) Chinese restaurant that range from 5-15% of my order.  QR codes can go a long way in getting your online and offline marketing strategies in synch. These are all concrete ways that the local small business can use social media to reach, engage, and capture potential customers.  Using tools like Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter and Yelp can increase your visibility both online and offline.  It seems silly NOT to use social media.

Now I’m not going to lie to you. Using social media, until you can find your footing, is time consuming and a bit scary.  Most business owners don’t really know where to start or think that if they put up a Facebook page, thousands of Fans will flock to their page and their business will increase overnight.  This will probably not happen.  Just having a Twitter account but not having anyone to tweet regularly and effectively will likely not benefit your business at all. However, with a well thought our strategy with a clear goal of why you want to be online, will definitely help propel your business in the right direction.

So today, as I use my free Happy Birthday Beautiful Birthday Lotion from Sephora, I am reassured again of the power of social media.  The lotion, to me, is proof of how well it can work.

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