Everybody loves a social media statistic, right? We know that a lot of people use social media. There are approximately 3.5 billion active social media users in the world at present (Oct 2019). Hard to fathom the scale of this? Well this is equal to the TOTAL amount of people who were alive on the WHOLE planet in 1965…everybody from 1 second-old babies to 100+ year old great-great-great grannies…everybody!

In 2019, however, this number actually represents around 45% of the total world’s population. No new-born babies then. They’ve not quite worked out a way to get a fibre broadband into the umbilical cord just yet.

Why social media a critical tool for retailers

In the UK, around 67% of the population are now active social media users (cc 45 million). Interestingly, of these users, 87% are predominantly mobile-first.

“Nice stats but what’s the point?’ I hear you cry. Well, put simply, if you run a business and you are NOT engaging with your customer through social media, or your business is not clearly AND easily visible/searchable online, then you may as well not even exist. Bottom line.

Is an on-point online presence and a tight social media game really necessary for localised businesses, e.g. local convenience retailers? To try and answer this question I’ve looked at some historical trends from the UK National Travel Survey.

In 1972 we travelled on average 4,476 miles per year. Which equates to an average of 12.2 miles per day. In 2014, this had risen to 6,488 miles per year, or 17.8 miles per day on average. Potentially that’s the equivalent of the average person having an extra 527 square miles they could find themselves in each day.

In other words, our ‘local’ world is a much wider area than it was 50 years ago. So being ‘local’ means you have a far, far wider pool of potential customers than you may have even realised. It also means that you potentially have more competition than you think.

According to the ACS Local Shop Report, there are 38,484 convenience stores in England, for example, and 50,345 square miles of land. So, within these extra 527 square miles there would be an average of 403 convenience stores. Now that’s a lot of competition!

Hopefully I’ve made a strong argument as to why an online presence is good for business, and why it still remains the most cost-effective way of influencing this widened audience.

How to maximise your online presence

The question that remains is how do we actually go about making it happen?In my view, there’s three levels to your online game. Basic – Better – Best.

  1. Basic

Firstly, register your business on Google search. You can do this by setting up your store at ‘Google My Business’ here: https://www.google.com/intl/en_uk/business/.

Google My Business

There has been a 150-200% growth in ‘near me’ searches through Google over the last 2 years. This is users who are searching for specific businesses near them when they are out and about, e.g. “supermarket near me’, “post office near me’, etc. If you’re business isn’t set up on ‘Google My Business’, it won’t come up in this search and you are effectively invisible to the consumer.

Secondly, have a Facebook business page. We all know about Facebook, so I won’t say too much here, but 78% of social media-users use Facebook, so it remains the best social media platform for businesses. If you only have one social media account – make it a Facebook account.

  1. Better

 These next two levels are simply adding to and maximising the potential of the basic element. For example, you’ve set up a Google My Business page, but you can go further. In the last 2 years there has been a 500% increase in ‘near me’ mobile searches that contain a variant of “can I buy…” or “to buy…”. In other words, customers searching for specific products or services. E.g. “Can I buy bread near me”, or “Shops near me to buy milk”.

By adding greater detail to your business page, including opening times, product ranges, services, etc. the greater the ‘searchability’ of the businesses. As mentioned, it’s all about making your business clearly AND easily visible and searchable online.

The same rule applies to Facebook. You may have a page with a cover photo and your store address, but Facebook is about reach. If your potential customers aren’t seeing you on Facebook then they won’t be coming to your store in person. To be seen on Facebook you have to give them something to want to see.

The 3 C’s. Content, Content and Content. Frequency, relevancy and relatability are key. I’ve seen many business pages on Facebook that haven’t posted anything for weeks and wonder why their social media isn’t working. Frequency is not a hard and fast rule, it’s about a consistent approach – good rule of thumb for a small business should be 3-5 posts per week.

You have 1.7 seconds to engage with someone on social media, so you need to grab their attention. Images, videos, GIFS, etc. are great and where possible include links to your website (if you have one) or to other relevant information.

The key thing though is that social media isn’t a tool to sell products or services but a tool to personify your brand. It’s about engaging socially with your customers and your potential customers. So, don’t just post promotions and deals but show your customers the true ‘life’ of the store. Connect with them, because creating a meaningful, emotional connection is critical in the quest for creating consumer loyalty.

You can also start to expand your social media presence to be more omnichannel, i.e. Twitter, Instagram, etc. The average social media user has 7.1 different accounts, so the possibilities are huge, but remember that it is time consuming and it’s only worth doing this if you’re going to give each the time they need. You’re better off having no presence than one which can damage the brand equity you’ve build up elsewhere.

  1. Best

 This is where you take it up a notch and use the targeted marketing tools available through both Google and Facebook. If you’re serious about using digital marketing as a sales generator then a paid-for strategy is key. The investment can be a fraction of what it may cost to produce traditional paper leaflets for example, and you can target specific demographics, locations, preferences, and even what people are searching for. So, for example, when they are looking for a ‘convenience store near me’, you are top of the list!

Social MediaThis is just the beginning

A small but significant point before we finish. People aged 55-64 are more than twice as likely to engage with branded content on social media than those 28 or younger. This isn’t an exclusive strategy to attract Millennials or Gen Z, it’s an effective strategy to attract every type of customer.

I’ll finish on one final statistic. Social media advertising will see a 20% increase in advertising spend in this year, accounting for 13% of all global spend. This will mean that, for the first time, social media will overtake print for advertising spend. Don’t be left behind. Don’t be invisible.