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Social media
June/July 2011

Social media

connects you with consumers

Social media sites are free avenues where in you can promote your store, communicate with the consumer and aim to drive more sales to your store. Because people voluntarily sign up to follow you, you do not run the risk of alienating people with unwanted messages. CARIN HARDISTY has some advice for retailers to make the most out of these sites.

Social media sites, for example Facebook and Twitter, are powerful networking tools. They give you the opportunity to talk to your customers when they are not physically standing talking to you in your store and give you the opportunity to create incentives for consumers to want to go back to your store.

The power of online friends

The average person has double the amount of online friends than physical ones, a study commissioned by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust has revealed. Facebook’s own statistics show that the average user has 130 friends, is connected to 80 community pages, groups and events and creates 90 pieces of content each month. That is quite a few places to post their opinions. The study also reveals that people tend to be more open and sharing online.

People also have a tendency to vent their frustrations online. Online, therefore, is exactly where retailers should keep their eyes on in order to manage possible unhappy clients — and, of course, to receive the praises sung by those who have received exceptional service from you. Almost 64% of respondents trust the opinions and experience of other consumers, as shown in a recent online study by Lightspeed Research*.

Social media can do wonders for dealing with your customers — especially the unhappy ones.

“When consumers have a bad experience, they will not come back. And now, more than ever, unhappy consumers are turning to the social web to share their complaints. However, retailers have an opportunity to wow consumers by listening and effectively responding to their complaints on the social web. Retailers can bring back unhappy customers and turn them into brand advocates.” Greg Gianforte, chief executive officer of RightNow, told POPAI, the global association for marketing at retail (Retailers Use Social Media To Win Back Unhappy Customers. Gregory Smith. April 2011).

Research by Harris Interactive (the Retail Consumer Report) shows that retailers have an opportunity to turn unhappy customers into brand advocates. When people read online reviews to form opinions, negative reviews carry the most weight. “A quarter (24%) said they change their minds about buying a product or service after reading two bad reviews, and a further 39% said reading three negative reviews would persuade them against buying a particular product or service,” writes Lightspeed Research ( “The older generation is even more cautious — one third (33%) of 55-64 year olds say they would change their mind after only two negative reviews, compared to 10% of 18-24 year-olds.”

The report found that 68% of unhappy consumers who had posted a review on a social networking or review site had received a response from the retailer involved – and 18% of those went on to become loyal customers and bought more from the retailer. All the retailers had to do was listen to what the consumers had to say and respond to their complaints.

Additionally, the report shows that 33% of the consumers who received a response went on to post a positive review of the store and 34% deleted their original negative review.

The report also shows that customers have low expectations of receiving a response to their negative review. 61% of the third of consumers who do not receive a response would have been shocked to receive a response from the retailer to their online review.

However, half of the respondents would buy from a specific retailer, because of a previous positive experience with the retailer, showed the Retail Consumer Report. After a positive experience, 31% would buy more.

The study by Lightspeed Research shows that 34% of respondents read reviews online for a shop or online store. 49% of respondents indicated that they had written a review and posted it online. 88% of these had written a positive review.

Of the consumers who had a positive experience with a retailer, 21% would recommend the retailer to friends and 13% would post a positive review online, shows the Retail Consumer Report.

How to be endearing to customers

There are a few principles to ensure you engage your customers through your social media presence — and keep them coming back to you online, as well as offline (to your store).

People should like you — or rather the you that you create for your online presence. Create a likable personality for your online presence and stick to it. Do not change how you react to customers from day to day. This likable personality should be clear on your page, be it Twitter, Facebook, etc. Every post should share common personality traits that are on the whole likable and nice.

Be friendly. No, you can’t see the people you are talking to. This does not mean you should treat them any differently than you would a face-to-face customer in your store. You should not show that you have bad days and do not have public arguments online. Take it to private messages, emails, etc. if it has to happen.

Next step is to make people trust you. To do this you need to trust the people interacting with you online. If not, your distrust will shine through and alienate people.

Now you need to create content that will have people coming back for more. You want people who will be interested in your store, your products, your service. You want people to be interested enough to tell their friends. You want these friends to be interested enough to visit your page.

How do you do this?

  • Tell customers when you have specials or sales. Everyone loves a good deal. This is also the easiest way of getting people talking about your store. To create more of a buzz on your online page, have special announcements only for your online followers.

  • Did you receive a new shipment of a popular item that was sold out? Did you receive stock of a special item, for example a limited edition sneaker? People will be waiting to hear when it has arrived.

  • Is your store involved in the community? Did the local school have a fun run and your store sponsored it? Did you sponsor a needy athlete with a sports kit? Are you involved with a training academy? Let people know.

  • Are you hosting an in-store event? Do you have someone holding a talk at your store? Is there anything else happening at your store? Make sure your customers are aware.

  • Did one of your staff members recently achieve something? Did they participate in an event — and therefore gained more insight the products needed for the type of event? Did they do something, for example complete a course, that will make them more knowledgable on the shop floor? This will inspire more convidence in your store.

  • Does your store have an interesting history?
    Or a quirky story, for example does the manager have a pet snake that they keep around to keep the staff in tow? Your customers could find this interesting and/or funny — either way, it creates a talking point.

  • Post photographs to your page. If people know you have taken a photo of them and you’ll be posting it on your page, they will return to your page to see themselves in the photograph.

  • Take photographs of your customers having fun at events in your store, or at events you have sponsored. Did you have a sale day and see people with a lot of bags? Ask them for a nice pose and take a photograph if they are willing.

    People love seeing themselves in photographs, especially younger people who will be more willing to put on a fun pose if you want one. On Facebook they can even tag themselves in the photograph and it will appear on their personal profile for their friends to see.

    Also remember to take photographs of your staff. That staff member who just finished a marathon? Push the camera button and upload it to the internet with the staff member’s name and a short description of what they achieved. This connects your customers with your staff — and therefore with your store.

    Use your page to inform people. Do you want to push sales of a specific product? Inform people why they need it. Is it a product for a specialised sport? Post a link informing people about the sport and why it is so great to do.

    Talking about linking, keep posts as short as possible. On Twitter you do not have much of an option due to their 140 character limit, but on Facebook and other sites you can post longer messages. In general, people prefer shorter messages. Tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) is a common phrase on internet forums. If people consider your post as tl;dr, it is a waste of space and they scan past it to other people’s posts.

    Part of keeping a connection with your online visitors is answering their questions. Do not ignore people. Ignored people become angry people who stop supporting your store — and they might influence their friends to do the same.

    Similarly, if a visitor has made a comment on something you posted don’t be shy to comment on their comment should it be individualistic enough (and not a generic “nice!” or “I want that”). This shows people that you are actually reading what they write to you.

    On Facebook you can promote your shop’s fan page by running a reveal tab promotion — where people have to click the like button in order to unlock new landing tabs on your fan page. This landing tab could, for example, have special interest news items (early announcements of new stock, announcements of sales, etc.). The reveal tab is often used to reward fans (people who have liked the fan page). When people ‘like’ a fan page on Facebook, an announcement appears in their Facebook friends’ news feeds, saying Jane Doe has liked Shop XYZ. This often leads to more of their Facebook friends going to see what is so interesting about Shop XYZ and could lead to more ‘like’s and more people visiting your page.

    Who is the person behind the presence?

    Some companies will employ a person to specifically handle their online presence providing feedback and information to customers.

    Cape Union Mart, for example, has employed a New Media Manager to specifically handle their social media. “We’ve been building our Facebook profile, increasing the number of fans, building our database of email subscribers, using mobile as a channel for new store openings, etc., and we currently have two people responding to customers via these new media channels,” says marketing manager Evan Torrance.

    Others share the responsibilities between more than one person. Sports Horizons is an independent family-owned store and all the people involved have an interest in the sales and customer service. Therefore they all respond where possible on their social media pages. The email addresses for both their Facebook and Twitter accounts are set to internet based servers, which means the staff have access to them on their mobile handsets and can give on-the-go feedback to followers.

    They have linked their Facebook and Twitter pages, which means that any info that they post on Facebook is automatically linked to the Twitter account and posted on there as well. This means they double the reach of their information with the same amount of work as if they just had the one account.

    As an example of how social media can work for you, Sports Horizons recently launched the Hazard Golf Clothing range in their store. The brand’s ambassadors include Dan Nicholl, Shaun Bartlett, Breyton Paulse, Sasha Martinengo and Kevin McCallum, who all have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Between the ambassadors and Sports Horizons they spread the news of the launch on their social media accounts with information and photographs. “Since the launch, the majority of the sales for the Hazard range has come from our Twitter presence in the older community, as this is where the range is mostly targeted,” says Dale Hermanson.


    Launched in 2006, Twitter is a social networking service that lets users send tweets of upto 140 characters that are posted to their profile page. It is estimated that Twitter has 200 million users who generate 65 million tweets a day.


    Facebook was founded in 2004 as a social utility that helps people communicate more effectively with their friends, family and co-workers.

    The company reports that they have over 500-m active users (users who have returned to the site in the last 30 days). To put this into perspective: the US has a population of over 310-m. If Facebook was a country and its active users were its residents, it would have a bigger population than the US — and it would have the third biggest population in the world (after China and India).

    According to Socialbakers, over 3.7-m Facebook users are in SA alone. Socialbakers ( is one of the biggest Facebook statistics portals in the world. The majority (77%) of South African Facebook users are between the ages of 18-44: 31% are 18-24 years old, 31% are 25-34 years old and 15% of SA Facebook users are 35-44 years old.


    Launched in 2009, Foursquare has over 8-m users worldwide, claims that 35 000 new users join each day and receives over 2.5-m check-ins per day.

    By checking in to Foursquare via a smartphone application or SMS, users share their location with friends while collecting points and virtual badges. Foursquare guides real-world experiences by allowing users to bookmark information about venues that they want to visit. Merchants and brands leverage the foursquare platform by utilising a wide set of tools to obtain, engage, and retain customers and audiences.”

    No matter the size of your store, you can attract new customers or reward your most loyal customers, by offering Foursquare Specials (mobile coupons, prizes or discounts). Customers receive these specials when they check-in at or near your venue.

    * Lightspeed Research has been doing research since 1937 (by establishing the first 1 000 person mail panel in the US) and online research since 1996.

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    © SA Sports Trader