by Laurie Schechter

Unless you inhabit a planet other than Earth, you know the enormous power that social media wields in influence and opinion. What should retailers be doing in 2019 to benefit?

Social media is a potent and multifaceted tool to grow brand awareness and sales. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet or magic wand, no universal one-size-fits-all handbook. There are, however, general guidelines that can optimize your foray into social media, whatever your level of expertise. And trends to note for 2019.


BRAND IDENTITY: Step one is to pinpoint the DNA of your brand or store, preferably in one sentence. What is your mission? What distinguishes you from your competition? What do you do best?

BUYER PERSONA: Who is your target customer? Best to define your audience by age, gender, income, career, geographic location. Are they homeowners, have kids? What problems do they want to be solved and most importantly, who are the top-paying, most loyal members? Facebook’s Audience Insights is an excellent tool for profiling your brand audience.

ENGAGEMENT: While building the bottom line is the ultimate goal, social media is, after all, about networking. Building relationships and brand footprint, establishing trust and brand loyalty, and genuinely engaging with your customer will ultimately lead to increased sales. Valuable relationships thrive on quality engagement. Do not buy likes, followers, an audience. Do. Not. Ever. In fact, platforms such as Instagram are actively closing out these avenues altogether.

PLAN: The one constant in all retailing is the known calendar—fixed events such as holidays and annual sales. Sketch out a yearly calendar that maps all events and corresponding content. Pencil in the what, where (which platform) and when (how often you plan to post). Planning provides a framework you can fill in with parties, flash sales, charity initiatives, product launches, etc. Establish a planning schedule at least three months out.

SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT TOOLS: These tools are useful to schedule posts in advance, engage on multiple platforms, follow and unfollow, get detailed performance reports, find influencers, etc. Regardless of the size of your organization and whether or not you have a dedicated marketing/social media team, the ability to bring social media responsibilities together into one management system is invaluable. Free and paid options are available from reputable providers including Buffer, Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Agorapulse, Sendible, eClincher, Social Pilot, CoSchedule, Edgar, Post Planner and Later.

MEASURE, MEASURE, MEASURE: There’s no reason to be clueless as to what your audience is loving and hating, liking and sharing, clicking on and ignoring. Businesses have analytical tools available everywhere—use them to inform your strategy, content creation, and posting schedules.


RE-ESTABLISHING TRUST: 2018 was a damaging year for trust on social media. Fake news, fake followers, data breaches came together to erode social media’s credibility. According to Edelman, “Sixty percent of people no longer trust social media companies.” Intimate and more personal human interactions are trending over celebrity influencers and media. Engaging meaningfully with a passionate but smaller community sharing valuable insights holds more significant value. Twitter chats, Facebook Groups (public, private and secret), live Q&As and Facebook Live are all useful methods. Live video particularly gives a brand more opportunity to engage an audience and build trust and loyalty. Facebook’s enabling allows Facebook Pages to join Groups (which is now in beta), while a new feature, Watch Party— which lets Facebook Groups users view, comment and react to videos together— reaffirms the company’s increased focus on Groups and the power of video. Use an easy-to-remember branded hashtag to engage a focused following around a substantive subject. Enlist UGC (user-generated content) to post and share using that hashtag and make your audience an engaged partner. Be transparent regarding data collection and sponsored content. Respond in a timely matter to customer interactions, address problems, explain manufacturing and pricing, own up to mistakes.

STORYTELLING: Stories, Snapchat’s invention of vertical, disappearing videos, is now growing 15 times faster than feed-based sharing. Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox predicts Stories will soon outpace feeds within the next year as the predominant sharing method among friends. The daily active users’ stats are impressive. TechCrunch reports 150M on Facebook Stories, 300M on Instagram Stories, 450M on WhatsApp Status, 70M on Facebook Messenger Stories and 191M on Snapchat. That’s more than 1 billion combined. The migration from text-based, desktop-designed platforms to mobile-only is important, allowing users to share experiences of the moment and on the fly. Notably, it seems that raw and real Stories play better. Hootsuite estimates four out of five major brands are currently on Stories. Experiment with them, use them to create how-tos, take your audience behind-the-scenes, or serve them with Q&As. Try using AR (augmented reality), GIFs and GIF stickers with the Stories cameras on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Not happy with a Story disappearing in 24 hours? Use Instagram Highlights to keep select Stories for as long as you want. Be an early adopter of Stories on Facebook since they haven’t yet caught on as heavily there and Facebook plans a significant investment including Stories Ads. Currently being tested: a full rollout of 5- to 15-second video ads.

MICROINFLUENCERS: The high cost and ubiquity of Influencers with a capital “I” (along with their impeded trust factor) has made micro-influencers, those with 10,000 or fewer followers, the new favorites. They come across as more honest and authentic (another important buzzword) with more engaged followings and, according to Social Media Today, “are often considered experts in their niche.” They can have a broad reach or be local, depending on your business. There’s an opportunity as well to make them your exclusive brand ambassadors assuming they’re independent of other brand contracts.

MESSAGING AND CHATBOTS: WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, QQ, and Skype combined boast nearly 5 billion monthly active users, more than all the traditional social networks worldwide. Users are shifting from public to private spaces, spending more time on messaging than on sharing news on social. A 2018 Facebook survey of 8,000 people found direct messaging with a company increased a respondent’s confidence about a brand. Messaging provides high-value conversations. WhatsApp’s release of its business API in August 2018 allows businesses to respond to customers for free within 24 hours. Build your own bot to answer simple questions, link to your FAQs page or allow for immediate conversation with your customer to close a sale. Direct messaging on Twitter or on Facebook Messenger is an effective customer service vehicle and another avenue for social media campaign promotions.

There’s much more, of course, so stay tuned to Marketing Matters in future issues of MR magazine.