receives compensation from some of the companies listed on this page. Advertising Disclosure


From Hashtags to Tweets: Your Guide to Retail Social Media Marketing

Amy Nichol Smith
Amy Nichol Smith

Finding your niche in the social media world

Marketing your retail store has become more complex and more layered than ever before. To drive traffic to your brick-and-mortar store or online, you must use a variety of communication channels. Whether you rely on traditional media, such as print or television ads, you should consider adding to your advertising budget to include online ads and social media marketing – and a social media team.

Do you know how to engage your audience, or whether you should respond to every tweet or post? Length of video, types of posts, and how to get your customers in your store and posting online about how great your company is proves to be more complicated than just designing an ad and hoping people see it. This guide to social media marketing for retail will help you learn the importance of social media and how you can use it to your benefit.

Why is social media marketing important?

You shouldn't need any convincing about why you should be targeting customers through social media, but consider this: 95 percent of Americans own a cellphone today – and most of those mobile phone users have a smartphone (77 percent), according to a Pew Research Center survey. Now consider how many of those smartphone users are scrolling through a feed of some kind, whether it's Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube or Twitter.

In fact, Pew found that 69 percent of U.S. adults use some kind of social media – that's up from 5 percent in 2005 and 50 percent in 2011. With that kind of growth, think about how many are likely to be using social media by 2025. Now consider how many of those social media users are in your target demographic. Plus, Americans are using sites like Facebook and Instagram daily, which gives you plenty of options to get in front of all those eyeballs.

Billions of dollars go into social media advertising – in 2014 it came in at $16 billion, and just two years later, shot up to $31 billion worldwide, per Statista, a statistics company. In the United States alone, spending is estimated to increase to more than $17 billion in 2019. Social media isn't just for reconnecting with old high school friends anymore.

Create a plan

Just as you created a business plan to start your company, so should you have a plan in place for your social media marketing. At this point, you should know these things already:

  • Your brand
  • Your products
  • Your customer

If you're unsure of any of those things above, you need to figure it out. Are you selling nature-inspired widgets? That can help you determine what your brand is, such as being focused on sustainability, eco-conscious manufacturing, and energy conservation, likely. Your target demographic is someone who wants or needs those widgets and who is also eco-conscious.

Find the right people to manage your social media accounts. You have enough on your plate, and you can't afford to be on social media six hours a day. Next, you'll need to work with your team to figure out how you want to build up your base of followers, inspire them to post and tweet, and how you'll engage them.

Build a team

Now your social media team – and you should definitely have a social media team – knows the voice that should be used when responding to customers on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. Having a team to handle social media can help immensely. Good customer support via social media becomes a form of marketing. According to Social Media Today, customers are 21 percent more likely to spend with a company if they receive good customer service through social media – and 71 percent said they'd recommend a business after a pleasant customer service experience via social media.

Responding to every tweet, Facebook post or comment on Instagram is a tall order for anyone, but if important questions or complaints are left unnoticed, you could lose customers. This is why a team is vital. Plus, a good social media team can help enforce your brand.

When a consumer posts something positive, your team should post a heartfelt thanks. Getting negative feedback? Respond to it and offer to direct message, private message or reach out in any other private way to fix the issue. That alone can go a long way to keeping customers and winning new ones. Answer questions and engage whenever and wherever you can. In a way, your business and brand is a bit of a celebrity to consumers, so they get excited when a business responds personally to them.

The tricky thing about social media marketing

Naturally, you want your audience to know that you just got the latest widgets in and so you want to blast that all over your social channels. Good idea – except do so cautiously. You can assume that your followers want to know about the newest widgets, but they don't want to be bombarded with images and posts telling them to buy, buy, buy. There needs to be a balance.

Give your customers reason to keep coming back to your social media pages – and your business – by offering entertaining content. This could be unboxing videos of new products, silly photos of employees, your newest in-store display or whatever you want. Do you have a big Instagram follower base and you're a retail clothing shop? How are you not in on the #OOTD craze yet? (That's outfit of the day, by the way). Just make sure you're also being relevant – don't use #breakfastofchamps if you're posting a picture of a mini widget.

Customers want promotions, giveaways, and they want to buy your product, but if all you're doing is throwing ads at them, they'll disengage. Show them that there are real people behind your company and that they represent the brand perfectly. It goes a long way to endearing you, your employees, your brand and your business to them.

Tips for your team

You're going to find much more success with social media marketing if you hire a team that already knows what's up. However, if you have a few employees who are already managing your pages and they're doing well, they could benefit from a few tips. Even if they already know what to do, – and you don't – knowing what to look for can help you understand how to navigate it all yourself.


Monitor your own pages for feedback or concerns and respond quickly. If a customer has a problem, sometimes they don't want to deal with customer support but complain on social media instead. Look for those mentions, hashtags and even search for typos of your business's name. If you're Widgets for Less (@widgetsforless), look for @widjetsforless, @widgetsforles and other combinations so nothing slips through the cracks.

Keep in mind that a customer just wants to be heard. Offer to listen, rather than pushing the person off onto customer support. Invite them to send you a private message so you can help them sort out the issue rather than simply directing them to visit your website – they're unlikely to follow up. Be proactive!


Avoid putting on blinders and looking only for problems to fix. React to positive comments as well. Even if it isn't praise, it could just be a mention. You can reward those who are giving your business word-of-mouth marketing with a couple of emoji reactions, an appropriate gif reaction or even a discount.

Feel free to pick someone at random who's made mention of your business and offer them a discount code if they message you before the end of the day. That 10, 20, or 25 percent off coupon will help ensure they head in to your store or buy online. Plus, this shows other customers that they could get lucky with their mention the next day, too.

Reach out

Things a little slow online? Take the time to reach out to potential customers. Search hashtags that are trending and make it work for you. Do you sell handmade skincare? If summer is coming, find a customer who's headed to the beach to remind them to pick up some sunscreen – and oh, hey, you sell sunscreen that's good for the skin and the environment!

You can also just start a conversation, which could lead to a sale. Even if it doesn't, it gives you a chance to enforce the brand, keep your business's name on people's minds and potentially earn new customers.

Reign it in

In addition to the social media customer support, marketing, and discount offers, you also want to offer some entertaining posts. But you don't want to go overboard. Don't be the friend who overextends, who goes beyond offering to help and insists. A million selfies of whoever is running your Instagram page likely won't help. Stay on brand, be fun and engaging, but don't fill up your customer's feed with dozens of promotional posts per day.

Using social media to drive traffic to your store

Sometimes all it takes is the promise of a discount, a freebie or a sale. Another great way to inspire followers to jump in their cars and head to your shop is to offer a free class, meeting with a notable person in your industry or something else your customers can't get online. You'll be selling the latest video game for the newest console, but the console won't be out for another month – your store has both. Invite your followers to come in to play it before it comes out, and reserve a copy of the game and one of the consoles. Want to really drive that promotion home? Offer a raffle – one lucky winner will get a free console (and they'll be back to buy the game later).

Invite your followers to come in to play it before it comes out, and reserve a copy of the game and one of the consoles. Want to really drive that promotion home? Offer a raffle – one lucky winner will get a free console (and they'll be back to buy the game later).

Tie it all together

You're going to get customers who visit your store without social media prompting, but you can connect with in-store promotions that bring everything full circle. Offer a discount for any customer who tweets, posts on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. with your company's personal hashtag. When they show it at the counter, they get X amount off of their purchase, or a free sample or gift.

Visual storytelling

When it comes to engaging your audience, you likely already know that a photo will do better than a text post, and the natural progression is that video will do better than both. While that's correct, there are still rules you need to follow with video.

According to Cisco, by 2020, more than 80 percent of consumer traffic online will be videos. Video already gets preference on Facebook users' feeds – and even more when it's a Facebook Live video. Images, emojis and video all are effective at gaining the attention of your customers, but you need to keep a few things in mind so you don't alienate a group.

Think of each video as being a call to action. You want customers to be interested, entertained and then you want them to engage. That engagement could be to go to your website, share the video, comment on the video or come to the store to buy something. Unboxing videos are incredibly popular, so if you're the owner of a clothing store, what better way to show your customers the latest shipment just in from a designer?

There is no ideal length of video for social media marketing, despite some claims. A two-minute video will do well; any longer than that, you're likely to lose some viewers who lose interest – after all, humans have incredibly short attention spans, especially today. That isn't to say people won't watch a four-minute or 10-minute video, it just means you need to pick the right topic or demonstration to keep a viewer engaged.

Paid vs. organic traffic

This is a tough call for any business. You're already paying a team to manage your network, and you have limited funds for advertising. Paying for ads on social media does two things for you: One, your ads are shown to people who may not know your brand. Two, you get a bit of a bump with your company posts because you advertise with the platform.

If you choose to stick to organic traffic only, it's a good idea to get your customers as involved in social media posts as possible. The more they like, share, and watch your posts and videos, the more your content shows up in their feed and their friends' feeds. Algorithms heavily favor those who advertise, though, so it's a good idea to pay for some ads and still work hard at getting that organic traffic.

When it works: some examples

When a company gets it, its customer base grows in numbers and loyalty. A few businesses here prove they know what works.


How do you make office supplies fun? Staples figured it out. The company has become known for its clever, fun, and engaging tweets and replies on Twitter, and they have more than 320,000 followers. Creative photos and videos help keep their audience interested, and replying to simple tweets such as "doing my hair with office supplies today" help grow their customer base.


Perhaps one of the best examples of social media going rogue and doing it well is Wendy's. The fast food giant didn't have a reputation as a shoot-from-the-hip kind of brand, but it developed over a short time and a series of tweets that didn't hold back. Wendy's successfully made its "fresh, never frozen" motto known. When one Twitter user questioned it, Wendy's didn't just take its lumps and move on, oh no. It fired back and embarrassed a user who, the whole of the internet seemed to decide, had it coming. The exchange went viral and Wendy's just keeps going. When one user asked Wendy's on Twitter "How much does a Big Mac cost?" Wendy's replied, "Your dignity."

Bonus: A fan of Wendy's chicken nuggets made history when he posed the question: "How many retweets for a year of free chicken nuggets?" Wendy's response: "18 million." The Twitter user, Carter Wilkerson set about to make it the most retweeted tweet ever – more than 3.4 million. OK, so it wasn't 18 million, but it was enough to make the biggest names (Google, Microsoft, Apple, celebrities and other users) take notice and retweet. Plus, Wendy's saw an opportunity to make the whole thing a charity event. If Carter could break Ellen's record for retweets, the company would donate $100,000 to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. There was even a hashtag: #NuggsForCarter. Wendy's honored the agreement with all kinds of gift cards so Carter could get his nuggs, and the company made that $100k donation, too.


Generally, Oreo gets it right. They're relevant, on brand and on trend. The beloved cookie company also responds like a news reporter with its content. For example, during Super Bowl XLVII (in 2013), the lights went out. It was a big talking point – the power outage resulted in a stalled game for more than half an hour. Oreo's response? A photo of a cookie with a spotlight on it, and this tweet: "Power out? No problem." Text on the photo: "You can still dunk in the dark." It was a risk that paid off.

Rules of social media – they're fuzzy

In a way, social media is the unexplored wild frontier for businesses. While one campaign works well for one company, it falls flat for another. Is it the audience base or the content? Well, yes and no – to both. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what will work or won't, so you should follow the rules, but only so far. For many businesses, going rogue has produced excellent results (we're looking at you, Wendy's). For others, it's better to home in on what its customers expect.

You're going to have to experiment, test, and explore the social platforms, your method, and figure out what works best. What worked one day may not the next. Try to not get discouraged and just keep trying. Perhaps the rule you should most often follow and not deviate from is to stay on brand. Would clothing retailer ASOS start posting about iPhones? Only if it had something to do with capturing a selfie of your latest outfit. Stay on brand.

When you jump into an on-going conversation, you have to be even more cautious. Hijacking a story or conversation to insert your brand can be off-putting. To do it right, you have to avoid being offensive or obvious. It's all a balancing act.

A great way to decide how to use social media to engage followers is to imagine what your brand would look like, say, do and support if it was a person. It can get messy when you make it clear what you and your company supports. Chick-fil-A had a hard time a few years ago when it was revealed that the company donates money to groups that are against same-sex marriage. It can also work for you, sort of. Dove is known for its self-esteem project that promotes body image positivity. Some of the campaigns were successful, while others were shot down for being too narrow, not well thought out, or even patronizing. What this comes down to is a judgment call. If you don't take the risk, you won't know, though.

The bottom line

Three of the biggest takeaways here for you should be: hire a team, have fun, listen more. The people you trust with your social media accounts are going to be a combination of friend, customer support and ambassador of your business to your customer base. That team you build should have fun with what they create, what they post and when they interact with customers. Above all, they need to listen to your customers.

Using social media platforms for advertising, generating organic traffic and promoting your brand is necessary to flourish in this age. Of course, social media is an ever-evolving landscape, but you can move with it, and create excitement for your customers of today and tomorrow.

Image Credit: Redpixel PL/Shutterstock
Amy Nichol Smith
Amy Nichol Smith Contributing Writer
Amy Nichol Smith is a freelance writer who covers business, technology, food, sports, pop culture, and much more. She's a former features reporter and editor for The Monitor newspaper and has a love of football and video games.