New restrictions have come into place across the UK again, and it’s clear the challenges of 2020 that retailers faced are far from over. Many consumers who previously favoured the high street have seen the benefits of online shopping, and half of them are expecting to continue buying this way in the future.
Some businesses who were unable to react and adapt their digital presence quickly enough have been forced to close their doors permanently. However, in the midst of this unprecedented disruption, there is a channel that consumers are using to engage with businesses - social media.
But are businesses listening?
Our latest research with Altimeter showed that 68% of businesses agreed social media had helped prepare them for COVID-19’s impact on business disruption. Retailers that are actively monitoring and engaged on social channels are able to leverage the medium to connect with customers in real time, responding quickly to those that suddenly found themselves without access to store assistants to engage with.
This real time communication is essential for success – 55% of customers who reached out on social media to complain expected a response, yet 49% stated they didn’t get one. Businesses have to be able to resolve issues with immediacy, an expectation created by a world where everything sits at our fingertips. A brand’s failure to act quickly can have longer term implications. One disgruntled customer tweet can turn into long term reputational damage.
These interactions are also opportunities for businesses to build positive relationships and brand loyalty. For example, private channels, like facebook messenger, are great for dealing with customer enquiries because they allow for one on one communication. Last holiday season, two-thirds of global shoppers messaged a business for customer support, which is a huge market to tap into and convert into sales. When a customer feels important and listened to we believe they are more likely to respect the brand and remain loyal — and personal 1:1 communication is the fastest way for brands to achieve that goal.
On public channels, like a brand’s main feed, it is important that customers still get a sense that their content is being personalised. Brands must do far more than churn out post after post promoting products. Used in the right way, public channels can be an important brand building tool. In fact, 54% of businesses agreed that tailored content on social media has helped to build stronger relationships with consumers, which in turn has benefitted their business.
Monitoring conversations that are happening online gives brands a chance to see first hand how they are being perceived, and the opportunity to engage where relevant. With the right tools, brands can stay ahead of trending topics, tapping into them, as part of a wider marketing strategy. Consumer habits have been turned on their head, and businesses that effectively monitor online trends and discussions tend to be a step ahead in understanding this new direction.
Clarins UK is a perfect example of this. Using Hootsuite’s social listening partner Brandwatch, Clarins reviewed and analysed customer conversations related to the brand and realised that their previously planned communications were no longer relevant. During lockdown, interest in makeup diminished as interest in self care and at home rituals were on the rise.
From these insights, the team developed and launched a new service called Clarins & Me, allowing customers to book a free video consultation with a Clarins beauty advisor. Launched just two weeks into the lockdown, the new service was successful from the start, with more than 450 bookings in the first month alone.
By listening to customers, adapting quickly, and shifting its tactics, the company was able to build and grow new revenue streams online despite store closures. And while the overall aim of the wider strategy shift wasn’t to drive engagement, campaign results were impressive, with a total paid reach of 5.1 million in the quarter, with 30,000 total paid clicks and a paid engagement rate of 6%.
Having a keen ear to the ground also opens up another great tool at a retailer’s disposal – their own customer base. Customer advocacy is the most organic way to get people to engage with a brand. Over brands and influencers, people trust other people – with 93% of customers finding user-generated content (UGC) to be helpful when making a purchasing decision. However, the best retailers don’t just wait for user generated content to be produced, they proactively nurture it by incentivising consumers to share positive content around the brand.
Hashtags or call for content posts are a great way to do this, but brands need to be as clear as possible in what they’re asking for. It might seem counterintuitive for a brand to tell followers the exact type of content they want them to share – but it’s not. In fact half of people who post content about their favorite brands want to know exactly what the brand wants them to share. But only 16 percent of brands actually tell them! This all comes back to understanding that social is a two-way dialogue, customers listen to businesses and successful businesses listen back. Retailers who understand this, and are exceptional social listeners, will have no problem getting customers to do the talking for them.
Overall, it’s important that retailers have a clear and strong digital focus, from the very beginning when a customer discovers the brand all the way through to purchase. Social media is the best tool for this job. Direct communication through various social channels can empower customer service and brand image. Social listening drives engagement and sales, and user-generated content provides compelling advocacy.
We found that while it’s getting increasingly difficult and expensive to reach new customers, social media lets you do it for a lower cost. Mature users of social media can better attribute social media engagement to sales activity, providing yet another data point justifying social media investment. This already powerful channel has only increased in importance due to COVID-19. Customers are out there talking, it is time retailers started using social to listen.
Henk Campher is Vice President Corporate Marketing at Hootsuite