Comment: Social media is key to a multichannel strategy

A proud moment for the monarchy was recorded last week as HRH Queen Elizabeth II sent her very first tweet! It's also almost that time of year again, when we can look forward to the John Lewis Christmas advert… more specifically, to it going viral on social media channels before it even hits our TV screens, as it did last year.

While the Queen is unlikely to be a regular contributor to Twitter, John Lewis certainly stands out as a fantastic example of a retailer that has embraced social media. And this is something that retailers and brands of all sizes need to prioritise in order to be part of the conversation.

Owning the conversation

We all know by now that social media is a crucial means for both retailers and suppliers to build a presence, own the conversation and engage with shoppers. As increasing amounts of marketing budget are being spent on digital channels, we are seeing communication from brands become more sophisticated.

Successful campaigns are crucial in influencing shoppers and keeping a brand front of mind, which is particularly important as more of us have less time to browse and are shopping more frequently online.

For a while now, certain brands have stood out for me in the way that they engage on a personal level with fans, to give their brand a voice, but also to tune in to popular culture and build something relevant and shareable. It's not just about Facebook and Twitter anymore, although these remain dominant. Recently, Dove has been engaging with young adults on Snapchat, while Instagram and Pinterest have also become important places to share visual images and recipes.

Listening and responding

Building a presence on social media is one thing, but it is even more important to employ social listening skills and technology in order to gauge the health of an organisation. With the ability for a complaint, a conversation or an image to go viral in a very short space of time, companies need to ensure that they can react fast to turn around negativity about their brand or they will be sure that someone will use this to their advantage.

Greggs demonstrated how to respond rapidly and with humour earlier this year when an offensive version of its logo appeared on Google. The company gained kudos for its interactions with Google, which was quick to resolve the unfortunate incident. 

Waterstones also recently responded to an unfortunate incident, when US tourist Mark Wills was accidentally locked in its store at Trafalgar Square after closing time. Twitter appeals for his release went viral, but the retailer's response to team up with AirBnB for a competition to offer a free sleepover in its Piccadilly flagship was a stroke of genius.

New innovation

As social media channels continue to evolve they are presenting new opportunities for brands and retailers. Amazon recently began using hashtags to add items to customers' wish-lists and baskets. American Express and others have been experimenting with hashtags to facilitate payments, and this is only the beginning. We are sure to see much more exciting innovation in the coming year.

Keeping ahead of the competition

As digital channels evolve, it is crucial for all retailers and brands to have a presence across a range of social media channels as part of their multichannel strategy. Digital communication moves rapidly and keeping up to date with developments often requires dedicated resource. However, the rewards are immense.

Of course, it is also hugely important to keep an eye on what the media and the retail analysts are saying about your brands too. You never know, occasionally we may get a couple of retweets!

Want to find out more?

Twitter and Google are among the speakers at IGD's Online & Digital Summit on 18-19 November in London. Come along to hear from thought leaders within the FMCG retail market and inform your own digital strategy.

Lisa Byfield-Green is senior retail analyst for IGD, specialising in online and digital. She will be writing a regular column for Essential Retail over the coming months.

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