In retail, lots of traffic is great — but the real measure of success is how many people actually make a purchase. Turns out that for fashion retailers, there’s a parallel phenomenon in the world of social media. Having a huge number of followers is a major asset, but what’s really important is how many of those followers are truly engaged with the brand.
For example, Gap has 9.94 million followers across Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, according to a recent report by Digimind. Between March 17 and March 31, the brand racked up 171,000 likes, retweets and similar interactions. However, Anthropologie, which has only 6.01 million followers, garnered 2.02 million interactions during the same two-week period.
Fashion retailers can take several steps to maximize the benefits of their social media outreach, according to Heather Aponte, Communications Manager at Digimind:
- Understand how shoppers communicate: Nearly all (96%) of shoppers reference U.S. fashion retail brands on social media through hashtags (like #gap), while just 4% refer directly to the retail company’s social media handle (such as @Gap).
- Find out what customers share: In order to craft an effective social media narrative, retailers must identify what shoppers are saying about them. Look at the contents of their posts, and consider approaching individuals directly with polling or outreach.
- Resonate with shoppers’ needs: Once a retailer knows what their customers want, they need to put it into practice. Build loyalty by creating content that generates conversations among shoppers.
- Be authentic and honest: Negative mentions are inevitable, and they can’t be controlled. The best way to minimize these issues is to maintain internal responsibility and transparency.
Pay Attention, And Use What Is Gleaned
Listening is key to maintaining a fruitful social media presence. Retailers need to understand both how their shoppers are communicating, and what content is getting the most attention. By tracking which content gets shared or mentioned, retailers can determine the issues that truly resonate with their shoppers.
“I think one really big thing for retail brands to realize, especially here in the U.S., is that a lot of people aren’t necessarily tweeting at or using the handle of a brand,” said Aponte in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “In order to truly understand how people are actually talking about their brands, they need to dig a little deeper into hashtags.”
Retailers can improve their social media insight by identifying the hashtags used in relation to them, then studying the trends contained within those posts. They can derive further benefit by reaching out directly to customers for their feedback. Platforms like Facebook have options for polling, or retailers can find their own ways to reach customers.
“It’s that matter of asking customers what types of things they’re looking for from a brand,” said Aponte. “A lot of brands don’t actually do that, because they assume they should be the authority on what type of content is going out, but if you want to keep your customers happy, you really want to be able to resonate with them.”
West Elm has taken more control of its mentions by asking customers to use #mywestelm in posts where they show off its products in their homes. The retailer includes these photos on its web site, simultaneously giving the company insight into how shoppers are using its products and helping customers feel more connected to the brand.
Negativity Can’t Be Controlled, But It Can Be Minimized
However, not all social media interactions are positive. Fair trade and sustainability issues received the most negative attention in the period Digimind studied, with 75% and 23% negative mentions respectively. Large global brands were more likely to be called out directly for their practices: for example, 9% of H&M’s more than 7,000 direct mentions recorded during the study were negative.
It’s difficult for a retailer to control public perception directly through social media, according to Aponte. The best way for retailers to cultivate positive sentiment is to engage in responsible social and environmental practices, and to be open about their operations.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of being able to change the perception but actually changing your practices,” said Aponte. “I believe that consumers today are definitely looking for companies that are not only transparent, but honest about what they’re doing and are working to make the world a better place.”
By building an open, honest culture internally and taking steps to ensure they post relevant content, fashion retailers can maximize positive perceptions about them. Social media has proven itself as a powerful outreach tool, and a small amount of effort can generate a halo of goodwill.