I was recently asked what practical advice I would give an audience of wine store owners who want to use social media campaigns to increase sales. My response was not to bother, which reflected the experience of the retailers in the room, none of whom had an eCommerce website. My answer shocked me a little as I’ve had great experiences using social media, but from a practical perspective I recognize that the measurable impact of social media for a retail store is pretty small. For a store with no experience selling online there are several more significant steps to take that will produce sales.
A recent Fast Company magazine article, projected that 80% of US companies will participate in social media marketing this year. The article likens the current climate to the early days of TV where companies are experimenting with the platform, but aren’t seeing or expecting to see revenue from it. This lack of accountability is partly due to the fact that social media marketing can be notoriously difficult to measure, and are unpredictable in their impact as companies are often surprised by what takes off and what doesn’t.
A review of the web analytics for the top 40 retailers on the BevSites eCommerce platform gives a pretty consistent view of the impact social media has in driving referrals to the store website. This group of stores includes several multi-million dollar websites that are pretty sophisticated with their marketing. Yet, only 10 stores were able to generate more than 1% of their referrals from social media. A deeper analysis of the referral sources shows that some stores have been very successful on Yelp which accounted for between 60-80% of their social referrals. By removing the Yelp results only 5 stores are driving more that 1% of their traffic from social media. These stores were using the social platforms in a truly social way, by engaging new and existing customers on Facebook, Twitter or even Yahoo Answers.
It could be argued that the benefits of social media don’t show up with Analytics tracking. New customers might be influenced by reviews or a post from their friend’s Facebook news feed, but the transaction or even the visit to the website might not follow a measurable path from social media. It is also true that the impact of social interactions accumulates over time and can have a multiplier effect.
The following are the different levels of social engagement we see for wine stores:
The minimal level of effort involves claiming your Yelp, Foursquare and Google+ Local pages. These pages represent your store and will collect consumer reviews without much interaction on the part of the store. Setting them up with good pictures and logistical details is well worth the effort.
The next step is where the store is creating its own content. At a minimum these stores are republished their email campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. This grows to include interesting articles from other sources.
The final stage is where things start to get social; where customers are being engaged. The goal here is growing the comments, likes and retweets you receive against your content. Be patient and expect small numbers,
In deciding your level of participation you want to look at it in the context of your overall marketing strategy and how social media fits into that plan? Who are your customers and where do they hang out? And finally who is going to feed the beast? It is rare for a store owner to be drawn to social media and have the capacity to feed it while juggling the priorities of the store. It is more common stores will set loose salespeople who are already active online and gravitate to using Facebook or Twitter to express themselves. For stores with some experience selling online social media could well be worth the effort, but proceed with caution, be patient, and expect the numbers to be small.