Big Interview: Destination CMS director Simon Baldwin

Retailers talk on a regular basis about needing to use social media to connect with their customers, but many of them struggle to measure the return on investment their activity on the likes of Twitter and Facebook generates.

But as these websites continue to grow in user numbers, from both a consumer and a business perspective, various initiatives have materialised aimed at using this relatively new digital experience for the benefit of traditional bricks and mortar retailing.

This month has seen the launch of a collective social media scheme aimed at helping an entire community, which looks to raise the profile of a number of shops and businesses through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Park Street in Bristol has been selected for the programme – dubbed the first of its kind in the UK – which will see local firms work together alongside specialist consultancy Destination CMS's (DCMS) SOCIALiSTREET arm and property firm Colliers International to generate online interest in the shopping area and drive footfall to the shops, restaurants and other businesses involved.

DCMS consultant Simon Baldwin told Essential Retail that it represents an exploration of how individual businesses can work together for the greater good of a larger shopping area.

"Every business within the project area now features on a new responsive website and the Park Street brand maker is visiting weekly to capture content that is then shared online through digital and social channels," he explained.

"The next steps will be liaison with head offices to better engage with businesses to demonstrate the service's value and success."

Baldwin acknowledges "there is no silver bullet" that can guarantee the success of a scheme of this nature, but he is confident that campaigns like SOCIALiSTREET have a future and can be rolled out to other destinations across the UK.

"From the first mall-to-mobile trials in 2011, to the development and delivery of that service through 2012 until now, we know that growth has to be relevant to the given destination and audience.

"It is organic. But we also know, through daily engagement, that growth connects with the right audience – and the results demonstrate our ability to guarantee followers and interest."

Bristol's social media scheme is in its early days, but Baldwin's reference to "results" relates to a similar initiative that DCMS launched in Perth, Scotland in 2013.

The Perth campaign had a number of key objectives and it reportedly achieved its goals of growing the region's social media following, raising the profile of local businesses' products and services, as well as enhancing Perth's digital footprint.Part of the initiative involved the launch of a new responsive website, which provided an online platform for local businesses, events and the wider community to advertise what they were doing in their stores and restaurants. The new site has already had over 10,000 page views and is attracting new visitors every day, making it a tool for tourism and boosting local visitor numbers.

Bristol's Park Street has a strong mix of independent businesses, including clothes boutiques, music and record stores, bars and restaurants, furniture and art galleries. Larger chains such as Jamie's Italian and Nando's are also in the vicinity.

Baldwin believes that engaging with social media can boost these companies' multichannel strategies, and link up the physical and the digital retail worlds. 

"We know from many pieces of independent research that consumers are increasingly engaged on social media channels," he argued.

"We also know that those same consumers associate themselves with identified retail destinations. Yes, they want to shop online, but strong retail destinations – if connected correctly with managed digital and social media communications – can better connect businesses to consumers and vice versa. SOCIALiSTREET is achieving that, seven days a week, and it is the only integrated platform to do so."