Connecting with the customer in a digital world

In today’s digital world, a solid social media strategy is one of the most effective ways to build your awareness, grow your customer base and engage with customers. Yet, getting to grips with social media can feel overwhelming for any independent business and is a task that often slips to the bottom of those never-ending to-do lists. So, here’s some pointers and advice on how merchants can make the most out of digital marketing and create an effective social media strategy to connect with their customers.

Choose your platform

Social media has now overtaken a brand’s website as the primary source for information amongst users aged 35 – 55, so it’s important your online ‘shop front’ is working as hard as it can be. There are many platforms you can harness to get your message across, with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest. But not all these will be relevant for your audience. Start by setting your communication objectives to help determine what platforms are right for you. For example, if your aim is to offer better customer service, Twitter is perfect for quickly and efficiently responding to enquiries. On the other hand, if your goal is to build brand awareness amongst a younger audience, you might want to consider Instagram. Likewise, Instagram’s image-based interface allows tradespeople to visually showcase their work to potential customers, while Facebook opens the door for strong communication between merchants and the customer. Understanding what your objectives are and where your audience is spending their time is the first step in getting them to engage with you.

Get the copy right

Ultimately, a merchant’s digital platforms should create awareness, build loyalty, generate demand and drive conversions. But we mustn’t forget that customers aren’t looking for the hard-sell – they want to engage in a more natural way.

According to eMarketer, Facebook saw a 70% increase in app usage during the month of March – but at a time when the world had come to a standstill, pushing sales messages wouldn’t have been right for these consumers. Creating strong content that is targeted, timely and in tune with what matters to your audience is the key to success. After all, building real engagement with posts that readers can relate to will increase followers and then, ultimately, sales.

Establishing a few themes that incorporate your key messages will help guide your content and ensure a good mix and balance of posts. Simple content themes can include areas such as team news, product information, industry insight or even live content direct from the branch. Consider asking a question to encourage interaction from followers or promoting a specific product’s benefit. Likewise, invoking curiosity works well – try giving a sneak peek at a new product or kick-off a competition encouraging people to share and interact with your page.

Create “thumb-stoppable” content

Research shows that three quarters of us use a device while watching television, so to catch the reader’s attention anything you put out must be eye catching and easy to digest. When you’re posting any content, put yourself in their shoes – would you stop and read on if one of your suppliers was posting this?

It is vital to use visual cues to grab the audience’s attention, whether that’s an image, gif, or short video. When taking pictures, use natural light and don’t be afraid to get creative and try shooting from unusual angles. On Facebook, in particular, video content outperforms any other format when it comes to user engagement but remember to keep it short and sweet with a strong opening. Using relevant emojis throughout your content are also easy ways to liven up copy and draw attention to your post.

Likewise, user-generated content is an incredibly effective way of increasing engagement and growing your audience by enabling the customer to become the brand ambassador. Encourage your followers to get involved too and share their own experiences or photographs, whether it’s project inspiration or how others use your products. An easy way to gather this content is to run competitions, encourage users to tag you in their posts or simply asking them if you can share their content.

Time your posts and engage with your audience

Get to grips with your platforms’ built-in analytics and experiment with your scheduling system to gain proper insight into which posts get the most engagement from your followers. Consider when your audience will be online and what time your content will reach the most people. This may, of course, be different in the current climate, but think about their typical habits. For example, are they most active on their lunch, or maybe just after they get home from work (or from the makeshift kitchen office to the sofa)? If you’re overwhelmed by the volume of content or you’re looking to post outside of your working hours, a free scheduling tool like Hootsuite makes posting at specific times easy and will provide extensive reports and insight into when your content is most effective.

It goes without saying that a strong social media strategy goes hand-in-hand with enhancing the customer experience. Respond to any comments quickly, interact with other users and brand names, generate conversation and ensure any complaints are swiftly taken offline and dealt with personally.

Invest in marketing spend

In recent years, we have seen a growing decline in the reach of organic or ‘free’ social media thanks to the changing algorithms of each platform, so great content alone isn’t always enough to reach the right people. It’s, therefore, vital that where possible you dedicate a small budget to paid social spend, allowing you to target the right people in your area. With simple ‘how-to’ tutorials available online, it’s easy to set up effective campaigns targeting everything from demographic and interests to specific geographical location of users.

Consider other forms of digital marketing like Google ads and direct emails to further increase your presence online, and encourage your social media followers to opt in for other forms of communications, too. Likewise, if you already have a large number of email subscribers, consider pushing your social media profiles through this channel. The key is to look at your existing audience online to help grow your reach in other areas.

Of course, don’t neglect marketing activity offline, too – traditional techniques like print ads in local publications, in-branch POS and direct mail all help to increase awareness. Ultimately, investing budget in a holistic marketing approach, both on and offline, will make you stand out above other merchants and drive footfall through your doors at a time when competition has never been so tough.

About Guest Blogger - Garry Gregory

packed products director Tarmac Cement

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