Talking Shop: Social Media for Retailers


Truth is, everyone’s got something to say these days. Some of it comes on talk radio, some of it across the counter at your local Tim Horton’s over a coffee. More and more our thoughts and opinions are finding a much larger stage… social media.

Whether its Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook many people use social networks to comment, criticize or complain about something in their lives. It’s not all negative but people certainly seem less concerned about holding their feelings back when they can make their thoughts known through a keyboard.

The good news is that these networks can be a channel for businesses to hear the unadulterated truth about their brand, service or products. The bad news is that there’s so much noise in social media it’s difficult to hear, much less understand the message.

So why should social networks matter to you?

  • Customers want us to know them and recognize that what they say matters. Listening to them helps build brand loyalty.
  • Hearing news about a trend can help businesses stay ahead of their competition and respond more quickly.
  • Canadians love social media, especially 18- to 34-year-old consumers who respect and value brands that interact with them online more.

Agreeing with these points is one thing, doing something with them is quite another. Let me lay out a scenario that might help you get your head around the idea of listening to social media.

A real-world example

Imagine you have a big sales event coming up—say a promotion for the holiday shopping season. As the date nears, you want to make sure everything goes smoothly. You need to understand what is well received and respond to negative sentiment immediately. You’d like to recognize which topics related to your event are trending and how those change across time. And you might want to find your biggest influencers, fans and critics on social media and hear what they’re saying.

If you can use Excel…

Now imagine that you can set up an analytic tool that could answer all those questions for you in the space of five minutes. I know what you’re saying… “I’m not a data scientist, I can’t do that.” If you feel comfortable using Excel worksheets you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish.


You can use Power BI

Using an Excel add-in called Power BI you can easily gather information from a place like Twitter using a hashtag (#—-) associated with your event. You can search out actual posts, see who is leading the conversation and understand the sentiment that’s building. With that you can accomplish the following:

  • Reach out to your “Fans” and reward them with special offers. Give them an early look at new products or special offers available exclusively to them. Getting them to advocate on your behalf is very powerful.
  • Make adjustments to the event or promotion based on the feedback you hear. You might arrange for additional parking, add staff or adjust your inventory.
  • Extend the reach of the promotion or event—you could send a direct message to people who have written about your event and build a database of people that you can reach out to in the future, (with all of the necessary personal privacy requirements satisfied, of course).
Share your story

You can use social media to share your message and not just listen. Remember the idea that “content is king.” If you post a message that’s interesting or entertaining, people will in turn share it on their own social media channels.

Publish your own videos

These days it’s very easy to create videos that can be posted to YouTube and shared with others through social media. Intelligent Textiles is a small company in the UK developing “smart fabrics” used by the military to reduce the weight of the equipment carried by soldiers. Their video tells a great story about how they came to be and what they do.

Publish your own blog

Closer to home, the Canadian retailer Leon’s—famous for overstuffed sofas and “Ho-Ho-Hold the Payments”—does some great social work. They brought in Autumn Hachey, a 25-year old, as their social media manager. Hachey has been collaborating with local designers and posting the results of their work on the Leon’s Lifestyle blog and on Instagram.

Remember, people are looking for stories, not sales pitches, and that’s what makes a video or post something that people will distribute on your behalf.

Active listening and storytelling are the key messages to remember. Keeping those two best practices in mind will help you leverage social media to build your brands and your business.

Are you a retailer that uses social media for sales, marketing or customer support? I’d love you to share your story with us.

Look for more posts of Talking Shop with Dave Rodgerson, a column by Dave exploring different ways that retailers can use digital technology to compete and win.


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