Building Your Social Media Strategy

March 2017—

Sure, retailers are using social media, but are they using it correctly? Check out these proven strategies to squeeze the most out of your marketing.

The retail industry has consistently been a frontrunner in terms of the adoption of social technologies. Just look at eBay and Amazon, traditional retailers that have demonstrated a degree of openness towards new technologies, social media included. But the home furnishings industry? Not so much. It’s time to close that gap.

A McKinsey Global Institute Study survey of 6,000 American shoppers revealed that while price is the leading factor in deciding where they shop, it only represents 24 percent of what they consider. Think about that: More than three-quarters of their decision remains up for grabs!

The second most important factors are experience, including how easy or convenient it is to shop at a particular retailer, and trust, at 17 percent each. Shoppers are more likely to buy from a business they know and trust. For this, social media should be a tool of choice.

But like anything else, social media in the wrong hands can backfire. We’ve compiled some of the top tips from industry insiders, ranging from digital media experts to leaders in retailer marketing, for you to consider and take advantage of in the months ahead.

Furniture has an advantage

According to Jeff Evans, founder of Social Dealer Connect, a digital media agency, furniture stores actually have an advantage over other kinds of product retailers when it comes to their online presence. “There’s an amazing level of eye-candy in this industry.

You are in an industry that combines fashion, beauty, color, texture, light, functionality and basic living needs. I really can’t think of another industry that combines such a combination in products that you can use every single day,” says Evans.

That’s why Evans says it’s important to take full advantage of the visual nature that social media has to offer. Put up real photos of your products, not just links. And don’t be afraid to use videos to encourage even more engagement between you and your customers. Both Instagram Stories and Facebook Live offer an exciting way to use this kind of customer engagement.

HFA member Dunk & Bright Furniture in Syracuse, N.Y., is one retailer that’s leveraging social media and video to bring customers into the store. “People watch videos, period,” says Erin Donaghy, director of marketing for Dunk & Bright. “And it’s super easy to create a 15-second video on your phone and put it on YouTube and Facebook. I think video is a great way for customers to understand product a bit more, to see the ins and outs, to get information. This isn’t about selling, it’s about info.”

Marisa Peacock, founder and chief strategist of The Strategic Peacock, helps create and implement online strategies for a variety of organizations, enabling them to target audiences more effectively. Peacock likes the countless possibilities live video offers furniture retailers.

“There are a lot of things you can do with it to show things that don’t usually get seen,” she says. “Say you get in a big shipment or are decorating for something—these are good things to show in real time to give customers a different perspective of what goes on in the store.”

Facebook vs. Instagram

We may feel like social media has been with us forever, but it’s still in its infancy. Whether it’s newness or simply the nature of the internet, you can count on the fact that the social media world is ever shifting and adapting. One day you’re the most used video sharing application in the market and the most-downloaded free app within the App Store (Hello, Vine!), and the next you are disabled (Goodbye, Vine!). Facebook’s purchase of Instagram in 2012 may have been prescient, because while Facebook still wins in terms of active daily users, 1.2 billion, Instagram’s 600 million have a higher engagement with business and its average engagement per post has increased more than 400 percent compared in two years.

So which social media site do the experts prefer and why? Peacock likes Instagram because it provides people with a glimpse behind the scenes of a business, sharing the personality of your store.

Donaghy advocates for Facebook: “That is where your demo lives and breathes right now.” She says that Dunk & Bright have tried most social media outlets, but she thinks a lot of it depends on the size of your operation and where you’re located. “For an independent like us with one store in a local area, we have found Twitter just isn’t as effective,” she adds.

For Evans, it comes down to different audiences and content. “It depends on your endgame and who you are trying to reach,” he says. “If you look at my Facebook versus Instagram, you will find different content because I’ve learned who is where. If you’re trying to reach a younger demographic, or in this industry’s case, a visual demographic, Instagram is the best platform to use.” He finds that due to the visual nature of the furniture and design industry the value of Instagram is higher as a social media platform for retailers in these industries.

Best tips for social media

When you’re working on your social media efforts, experts recommended having a plan above all else. “Be consistent, be strategic,” says Peacock. “A lot of retailers and small businesses in general tend to post when something is going on that they want a reaction to, but I always recommend to build a calendar so they can see when big events are coming up and then supplement in the time in between with other content to keep your momentum going. That way your audience is there when you and your store want to promote something big.”

Furniture retailers also should take into consideration the daily life of their target audience—what are their habits so you can leverage them to your advantage to ensure the most people are seeing your content. Do they have a daily commute? Do you want to hit that second screen exposure when they’re watching television and scrolling through their phones or tablets at night? Knowing this information helps you maximize the views of your content posts.

Remember to be practical about what photos, videos and other content you post. After all, many consumers buy furniture for practical reasons. They’re looking to invest in something that will serve them well. Offer them help with their practical issues via social media, whether that is the best couch for a small place, options for a smaller budget or sustainable products to get them in the door. Then you can follow up with the emotional connection to lock in the purchase.

It’s all about using social media to tell stories. Peacock recommends showing different types of consumers how they can benefit from the various furniture and accessories you stock in your store.

“Tell them stories from the perspective of someone who is renting their first apartment or about retirees who are downsizing,” she says. “Show the experience and how the product brought people together.”

No matter what you do, Peacock emphasized thinking about all your social media efforts from the perspective of the customer to provide the information and insight they truly desire, not what you think is most important.

Peacock says that while each retailer will have their own communication style, there is a right way and a wrong way to pushing your message out.

Twitter and Facebook users value immediacy; more than half of them expect a response in less than two hours. The most important thing you can do is to acknowledge the voice of the customer, really hear and respect what they’re saying.

If what you’re hearing is a complaint, let them know a resolution is being sought, then follow through on that resolution to the best of your organization’s ability. In other words, don’t consider social media in a vacuum. Integrate your response with existing channels and let the most appropriate channel lead the way to resolution.

Listen and pick your moments. If sales are your immediate priority, nurture potential leads with relevant and helpful content. Make sales through engagement. The age-old sales maxim, “make a friend first, a sale second” still applies to social media, only even more so due to social’s ability to amplify positive, or negative, experiences.

One of the best ways to make a friend is to give advice. HFA members Knight Furniture and Dunk & Bright let their product speak for itself while they speak to customers about issues other than sales.

Their social media teams can be found online giving feedback to customers on questions ranging from tip-over safety to warranties.

Perks don’t hurt either. Remember that 61 percent of consumers use social to look for discounts. Social is obviously a great way to highlight your store’s promotions and deals. The trick is making them appropriate and relevant to your brand.

For example, why would a furniture store give away an iPad? Promotions of this kind are common and can build vanity metrics such as Likes or Follows, but those need to be balanced with engagement and conversion.

How engaged are iPad fans with furniture stores? Fans of home décor are much more likely to be highly engaged and even influential to a home furnishings store. Fewer more influential followers trump hordes of deal hunters every time.

Finally, retailers must pose the all-important question: How does your store plan on measuring and quantifying the success of your implemented social media programs?

Peacock and Evans stress that retailers look beyond vanity metrics such as Likes and Follows and try, for example, to find a direct link between conversation and conversion. In other words, focus on influence and analytics over inflating a group size or follower base.

Social Miscues

Now that you know what you should be doing with social media, let’s be sure you aren’t making any of these common mistakes retailers fall prey to:

  1. Don’t be passive. Waiting to see what your competitors do can prove fatal. Don’t worry about what they’re doing. Focus instead on your needs and your consumers and what they need.
  2. Don’t make noise to be noisy. Ask, what’s the value I’m adding by posting this, what am I contributing. If you don’t know the answer, hold back on the post.
  3. Don’t delete. No matter how negative the review, post or comment is, leave it alone. Delete these and the customer will know. And you can bet they’ll tell everyone they know that you did, making it look like you don’t care. Instead of deleting, respond and deal with the issue.
  4. Don’t be fake. When you talk to customers always be your genuine, authentic self. Just like you, customers can tell if you’re just trying to sell them something.
  5. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Yes, you need to be posting regularly, but that doesn’t mean every day. Post when you have valuable, useful content that your fan base will engage with.

 

RetailerNOW shares a few of the best tools to help you create your content and schedule and analyze the results.

Content Creation Tools

BuzzSumo helps you find content that relates to your industry or niche.
Repost is an app that lets you repost content from other users and credit them.
Animoto is a tool that lets you create animated videos to share on your social channels.
Canva and PicMonkey are online photo editing and graphic design tools; they also have templates and images available to create online collateral.
There are lots of photo/image creation, sharing and editing sites, whether you want to design your own or need a resource, check out Pablo, Flickr, Shutterstock, Death to the Stock Photo, Creative Commons, and Snapseed. If you need infographics, charts and graphs try Piktochart and Infogr.am and if you want to share images of quotes or text try WordSwag or Typorama.
Google Trends provides pop/current trends you can translate to relevant content for your social media sites (rather than posting all sales events all the time).
Bit.ly not only lets you create short, shareable links, it lets you easily track the link’s performance.
Pocket is literally your online pocket—you can save articles, videos, etc. from your browser or apps to read/view later.
Evernote lets you capture and save notes, images, documents, etc. and access them across all your devices.
Post Planner lets you find, plan and post the best content for your specific audience.
Babbly helps you share other people’s content and makes it easy for people to share yours.
Typeform lets you create custom fillable forms, surveys, quizzes, etc. online.
Grammarly is a browser extension that lets you check the grammar and spelling of all your social media posts. Bad grammar and poorly written posts mar your brand.
Quickmeme lets you find popular memes or create your own. Memes, if done well, are fun, shareable, and grab attention.

Scheduling Tools

Buffer lets you schedule, publish and analyze your content across different platforms. Includes browser extensions and mobile apps.
Hootsuite is an option for social media scheduling and management.
Sprout Social lets you create marketing campaigns across various social channels.
Edgar keeps your posts in an automated queue so you can re-post your content on social media every so often.
CoSchedule is a content (and social media) marketing strategy calendar that lets you plan, promote and execute in one place.
Later and Grum are tools specifically for Instagram, which isn’t connected to any major scheduling tools. Later lets you schedule posts and Grum lets you post from your computer if you don’t have the mobile app.

Monitoring and Analyzing Tools

Respond helps you keep track of engagement so you can easily respond and manage your customer service online.
Mention lets you monitor social media, forums, blogs and the web to track everything (your brand, competitors, etc.) and react directly within the app or through your Buffer account.
Crowdfire lets you manage your following and plan marketing campaigns to grow your online presence.
Nuvi offers real-time marketing insights, dashboards to track followers, engagement, impressions and demographics.
Facebook Messenger and Facebook Ads let you communicate with your customers and build a larger audience respectively.
Start A Fire helps you track, measure and get instant insights on your third-party content, helping you create viral social media posts.
Qwaya helps you manage your Facebook and Instagram ads.
Iconosquare helps you with Instagram analytics and marketing and Followerwonk gives you analytics on sites like Twitter.
Brand24 monitors your online reputation/mentions.
Agorapulse tracks your mentions and lets you manage and measure your online presence.
Rival IQ gives you competitive analysis about what other brands are doing on social media.
Trello is a project management and organization tool (whether it’s your to-do list or your business marketing plan) that’s helpful especially to teams or multi-users.
IFTTT and Zapier are productivity apps that let you connect multiple apps and online services to create workflows and save you time.
Klout and Klear are two tools that can help measure social influence and other metrics.

About the Author

Ginny Gaylor
Ginny Gaylor is an award-winning writer and editor based in Greensboro, N.C. She has more than 15 years of experience writing about the home furnishings industry. She can be reached at ginnygaylor@gmail.com.