Social Savvy: Social media ROI for retailers - May 2021

By Irene Williams

What’s the return on investment for social media? The first time I was asked that question was over a decade ago. I had jumped into the “social media for business” arena relatively early, and many colleagues reached out in those days for my two cents, as they were trying to figure out the new way to connect and communicate. Back then, business leaders were often skeptical and hesitant to invest in something green and unproven.

The most recent time I was asked the question was about a month ago. Yes, the question remains in play. However, this recent inquiry was posited with a twinge of desperation by a sole proprietor who has recently awakened to the need to be more present where his core customers are “gathering” on social media.

Interestingly, my responses, spanning more than a decade, echo the same core messages and strategies.

Being part of your customers’ ongoing conversations is directly aligned to sales opportunities. When retailers remember the “social” in social media and show up to genuinely connect and engage, they can quite naturally join in direct interactions with people who want to buy what they’re selling.

Over the years, I’ve seen and been part of many social conversations that led to valuable returns:
• Specification of flooring for an outdoor kitchen that came from merely responding to an interior designer’s ask for ideas on Twitter
• Online friendships formed that led to a show house placement, which turned into ongoing purchases for other projects
• Connection to an influencer who “met” the company thanks to social media and became a notable advocate
• Countless occurrences of interest in new products that resulted in samples requests and, ultimately, purchases

I really could go on, but I think you get the idea how social conversation can lead to measurable monetization.

By using social media for listening and market observation/research, I’ve seen many businesses harvest ROI in the form of anecdotal data to guide better strategies and decisions that really paid off.

Examples include:
• Insights gleaned from social buzz helped identify color and style trends that empowered a small business to introduce new products that were more likely to sell and shed products that had passed their prime
• Learning firsthand that key market segments start product searches on Pinterest, even for commercial projects, resulting in the creation of strategies to reach even more people through Pinterest to get them into showrooms, spark samples requests and score email signups
• Getting early scoop on some regional building projects so sales reps could target the opportunities before competitors

These represent how intangibles can lead to the tangible results retailers seek.

This ROI indicator brings to mind the slightly desperate inquiry from the business owner who had only now come to realize that social media should’ve been part of his core marketing all along. You see, there’s great value in building a business to be at the forefront of and adept at strategically using the latest platforms and technologies. Businesses that integrate the most current technology and nimble customer connection channels are future-ready-and potentially more valuable should owners opt to sell.

We’re living in the exponential future. Twenty-one years into the 21st century, we’re experiencing technological advancements occurring at 100 times the rate of previous centuries. Linkedin started in 2002, and Facebook started two years later. Since logging onto society’s radar, social media has only grown in usage, become more integrated into how all humans connect and interact-think about the prominence of socially integrated direct messaging and apps that allow texting and calling-and scaled to garner more of the global population’s time and attention.

How could any business leader not choose to invest in being party to those kinds of progressive portals that large swathes of their customer bases are using for literally hours upon hours each day?

As with most things in life, businesses get out of social media what they put in. The better the investment, the better the potential returns. And, my use of better in this context is only partially related to the idea that “ya gotta spend it to make it.”

The better (and best!) investments in social media should include key things such as the following:
The right leader working with a dedicated team: I’m not implying retailers should install multi-person social media departments, but I am contending that they must elevate the role of social media as part of the frontline marketing mix such that they will designate human capital necessary to lead social marketing and commerce with a focus on ROI. The days of handing off Facebook to the youngest staff member just because they grew up with social media are O-V-E-R. The kind of social media that can bring returns is nuanced and sophisticated and should be led by proven pros, not handed off to the newbies.

Adequate budget befitting of channels with close customer proximity: Today’s social media is fueled by monetary investment through advertising dollars. It’s a falsity to presume social media is free because anyone can create profiles and start posting. Retailers must embrace this reality and budget accordingly to maximize social marketing.

An integrated approach that uses social profiles and web properties to guide the customer journey: When I launch a social media program for a business, I never solely address their profiles and posting schedules. I start by auditing the website and its functionality and user experience. I study the existing marketing data, namely stats from Google Analytics, to get baseline insights on how current social activity is feeding the marketing engine for the company. I do a review of the email marketing program, and, if there is not much of one, I recommend strategies to implement. I am this comprehensive in advance of “socializing” because all pieces and parts much work together, and social media is but one tool in the digital marketing kit.

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