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Social media in practice

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How do retailers use social media from day to day and does this measure up to the best practice that RetailX researchers have identified? Martin Shaw, head of research at RetailX, compares and contrasts


At their best, leading retailers in the Brand Engagement Performance Dimension share stories on social media that resonate with their readers. Readers are interested because these stories are the ones that are worth telling, rather than ones that simply try to sell a product without setting the context for doing so.

Take the post on the next page as an example. Asda reported on its Facebook page about home delivery driver Declan, who photographs the beautiful scenery he passes on his routes across Northern Ireland. The report included Declan’s own comments and he has since responded to some of the 189 comments the story has received. Among these comments were some thanking him for his work delivering to housebound customers. The story received 2,500 Likes and 136 shares, so evidently was an effective story that really appealed to customers and resonated with their own experiences. Not only was it about community but it also used some striking images to great effect.

Another strong example of social media use comes from John Lewis. Some 280 Facebook users showed interest in an exclusive in-store event hosted by the retailer in partnership with third-party brands and featuring adventurer and broadcaster Ben Fogle.

These two posts stood out in RetailX research that analysed the content of Facebook posts from leading IRUK Top500 retailers. They did so because they took social engagement to a level that was the exception rather than the rule in our study.

We took a look at how the Top50 retailers in this Dimension engaged in practice via Facebook. In late January 2018, we analysed the most recent post in each of the 50 feeds. This gave us a snapshot of content that was mostly posted within a two-week period – and it shows a reality of content that’s sometimes a world away from more headline-grabbing social engagement.

For every retailer that live broadcasts its pancake-making masterclass or has a live show streamed to Facebook, many more are using content that’s little more than product listings. It’s important for retailers to put themselves in the consumer’s shoes and, while product specifications are important to know, consumers care more about how they will use the product. Effective social media should be telling customers about the occasions they want to dress up for, about how exactly to achieve the job they’ve bought the product to help or different ways they can use the product that they may not have thought of. That, or simply posts that chime with their own interests, will keep customers coming back.

What did the research show?


We analysed the purpose of each post and found that just a small minority (8%) told a personal interest story about an individual or community. Homewares and DIY retailers were most likely to use this approach. By contrast, more than a third (34%) of posts provided product information – an approach that was most commonly found among the same group of homewares and DIY retailers. Some 12% of the posts analysed promoted discounts or special limited offers. The technique was the most common among health and cosmetics traders.

Promoting an event accounted for 8% of posts and was most common for general retailers, while 10% promoted a new product or product line. All allowed viewers to comment on their posts but only a fifth (20%) actively encouraged readers to do so. The most likely to do so were large household name retailers. Perhaps that’s because doing so implies an investment in monitoring social comments and feedback that’s beyond the resources of smaller traders. Some 8% invited comments or feedback via other channels, for example, by directing people to the blog. Access or usability information about their stores was provided by 6% and was most common for department stores, where information typically covered how to reach the store, or the type of in-store services that were available. Meanwhile, one in five (20%) provided access or usability information about the retailer’s websites that went beyond a link. This might include additional services offered on websites, such as personal recommendations.

Finally, 6% of the Top50’s Facebook pages used a pop-up window that operated in a similar way to live chat to ask, unsolicited, whether the visitor had a question.

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