The social market

Social media is an integral source of promotion for businesses

Statistics demonstrate the benefits of using social media to market small businesses to their consumers.
Statistics demonstrate the benefits of using social media to market small businesses to their consumers.
Photo: 
Cyndy Gibson runs the social media for her stores.
Cyndy Gibson runs the social media for her stores.
Photo: 

To create a relatable rapport with customers, business can take the leap to social media.

With the right leveraging of social media, small businesses can use online conversation and interaction to boost their marketability.

The student-run Tricolour Outlet capitalizes on their online presence by marketing to their social media-savvy peers as customers.

Compared to other AMS services, Tricolour Outlet is pretty new, Jacky Lam, marketing manager of Tricolour Outlet, said. The store is an amalgamation of three separate student services that existed in 2010.

“We have had the [Facebook and Twitter] account since two or three years ago, but it didn’t get too big until last year,” Lam, ArtSci ’14, said.

With each Facebook and Twitter post, Lam stresses the importance of student-relevant and visual content.

“As you can see this year, most, I would say 90 per cent of the posts I’ve posted have a picture attached to it,” Lam, an external hire who has been working for Tricolour for six months, said. “I try to make it as appealing and attention-catching as possible.”

Aside from promoting local shows and events, photos of store merchandise share a uniform appearance.

“It’s really heritage-y, a little hipster,” Lam said. “It’s a really united feeling throughout and then that’s how we kind of set the tone.”

Instagram, likewise, becomes a quick and convenient way to promote new in-store merchandise where, Lam said, their feed is directly connected to their website, which launched this year.

“When we have a new product and we don’t have time to shoot a professional catalogue picture, we’ll rely on Instagram,” Lam said.

Cyndy Gibson, owner of Princess St. boutiques Agent 99 and Blueprint, admits that she’s often taxed with running the retail side of her store, but said she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“That’s what we signed up for is having that connection to the customer and translating it online,” she said.

Gibson, who opened her first boutique when she was 22, is a strong supporter of the community. She’s sponsored numerous school fashion shows and hosted trunk shows in support of local food banks.

“I think what really has to be your branding is that you still have your foot in the local scene,” she said, “and you have to be authentic.”

Though Gibson handles her store’s social media accounts herself, she allows a handful of her staff access to post, some of whom run their own personal blog or study marketing.

“I like the different perspectives of the different people who work here,” she said.

Gibson said that social media isn’t about solely promoting in-store merchandise.

Comical images of fashion mishaps and funny animal pictures add a playful touch to Agent 99’s online presence.

“I think people will drop off if you strictly advertise,” Gibson said.

Instagram also allows her to understand her users on a more personal level, and she was amazed at the positive response and engagement after school semi-formals and grads.

“People would hashtag us in some of their pictures with their family and so on like, ‘thanks Agent 99!’” she said. “I love that — that tells us we’re doing a good job.”

Gibson explains that she thrives off of the online interaction.

“That’s what we like,” she said, “that we still have that connection to our customers.”

Neil Bearse, the associate director of marketing at the Queen’s School of Business, explains that small businesses need to engage in conversation with users on Twitter rather than concentrating solely on business advertising or promotions.

“I have a really good friend in Ottawa — he’s an insurance broker, and he doesn’t sit all day on Twitter talking about insurance,” Bearse said. “He sits all day on Twitter talking to people about the city of Ottawa.”

Bearse said that social media shouldn’t be a “broadcast mechanism,” but a means to engage with and foster a sense of community and trust.

“You have to learn that your brand is actually people,” he said.

Social media, he said, is a powerful tool that transcends the static nature of radio and TV advertising — it allows brands to interact with consumers on a more personal level.

“I look at David’s Tea and the way that they handle their Twitter account,” Bearse said. “It’s the kind of writing that allows customer[s] to say, ‘yeah, I like these guys. These are my kind of people.’”

Bearse said that social media allows companies to learn about their customers, and can be mobilized best as a story-telling opportunity.

“[Successful corporations] also provide their customers with a lot of great content they can use and share with their friends as well.”

For smaller businesses, time and resources may be difficult to allocate to social media, he said.

“In a lot of cases, again, it’s a lack of resources [and] time,” he said, “and secondly, a deep understanding of what the possibilities are like beyond broadcast.”

To be successful, a sustainable and interactive online presence is important, Bearse said.

“On the local side, the organizations that have done things well are those who have … really treated social media as part of a long-term journey towards building relationships through conversation,” he said.

Bearse said that social media gives companies the means to put customer service on offence.

“I can’t think of a single organization that wouldn’t want to come across as human, friendly, caring, helpful — you just couldn’t do that [with] TV or print or radio,” he said.

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