Despite much reservation about new social media sites, businesses are finding them useful for connecting with a new audience of shoppers

While many retailers are aware of the popularity of the main social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat – very few are using them all to promote their business. In fact, a recent study found that 74% of high street retailers don’t actively use any social media to engage with consumers.

The study, commissioned by Maybe (a purchasing advice website), also found that 25% of millennial shoppers (those between 16 and 34 years of age) actually turn to social media for inspiration before buying products, revealing just how much social media can influence this demographic of shoppers.

Facebook is the leading social network, reported to have more than 31 million active users in the UK – that’s 60% of the population. But it is starting to lose its younger audience to other, newer sites such as Snapchat and Instagram.

Snapchat has about 10 million daily users in the UK and more than 70% are under the age of 34. It is a channel for short messages and videos that expire after a set amount of time (decided by the sender).

Instagram has roughly 14 million UK users and about 90% of these are under 35. It is an online mobile photo and video-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures and videos, and share them either publicly or privately on the app. The app includes lots of editing options to give images a more ‘arty’ feel.

However, given the popularity of these sites, few retailers have learnt how to exploit their marketing potential.

Kate Mills, of Heath Stores in Kent, is very confident with her ability to use Facebook and Twitter effectively, but is aware she needs to make better use of Instagram and Snapchat. “Instagram is definitely something we want to get into. It’s important because Facebook is becoming more for the middle-aged shoppers, whereas Instagram and Snapchat are where the teens and people in their twenties are at. 

“I’ve set up an Instagram account, but need to take some time to start posting on there. I think our local and home-made products will fit that well. With Snapchat, I’m aware it’s a popular site, but I’m not sure how to make it work for our business.”

Jai Singh of MJ’s Go Local Extra, Sheffield, uses all four sites effectively. Jai even displays his posts on a 75-inch screen in the window of his shop.

“We post on a daily basis. The messages we send are about anything from sandwiches and coffee, to fresh bread, special offers, and plenty on staff or customers; anything we think is humorous or helpful to customers, or areas we want to promote in store.

“I do the posting and usually spend 30 minutes to an hour updating the sites, although lately I have been so busy that I have decided to train up a few members of staff to become admin members so they can post when I’m unable to, or I’m not in store.

“None of my staff are any older than 23 so they are all pretty well in the know about how the sites work.”

Mandeep Singh, of Singh’s Premier Sheffield, believes social media is becoming one of the most effective tools in relating his businesses with his community and customers.

He tries to harness the power of local celebrities to increase interest in his Facebook page, such as one featuring  a local celebrity known as ‘Billy the hard man’, a YouTube sensation who is related to IBF world boxing champion Kell Brook.

He also plays on big events to boost sales of specific categories. Ahead of the England vs Russia football game in June, Mandeep advertised his alcohol multipack deals via Facebook. Sales were up 31% across all three stores, with Strongbow dark fruit 10-pack sales up 53%, Carling 15-pack up 61% and Fosters 15-pack up 42%.

“We added 14 new members to our Facebook page and have seen a few new faces in all three stores. This is something we had never even thought about during Euro 2012,” he reports.

Jai has noticed a direct relationship between Facebook posts and the shoppers he gets in his store. “I haven’t started measuring how the sales numbers increase after I’ve posted an advert for that product, but I can see myself that people come in looking specifically for the items so I know it’s having a real impact on sales.”

One benefit of Facebook for retailers is that this site tends to be better for reaching some of the older generation of shoppers – Jai says he has shoppers in their 60s taking part in competitions via Facebook.

Dan Cocks, of Premier Whitstone Stores in Devon, agrees that shoppers on this site tend to be older, and as a result takes a slightly different approach for different groups. “On Facebook we try to keep more professional and on Snapchat it is more jokey,” he points out.

Jai explains the different ways retailers can use Facebook: “With a normal business page you can invite people to like your page so they have the option to opt in to seeing all your posts, or not. This is good because you know your followers are likely to be genuinely interested in what you are posting.

“With a community page, you can add anyone you want so the reach can be very far, but that doesn’t always mean the impact is better as you don’t know how many of those people are paying attention to the page.

“I created a community page to link together all the local businesses, customers and community groups and give us a community hub. A lot of people add others onto that page and post a lot about their business. It was a good thing for us to set up, to show we are a part of the community.”

While Jai gets a great response on Facebook – he has about 1,000 likes on his store’s page – he understands why people are moving over to different platforms.

“I think the huge number of businesses promoting themselves on there has put people off. That’s why I try to make sure I grow my followers organically rather than forcing people to like my page in order to be entered into a competition. If you do that, people question your motives and might decide to stop following you if they feel like they’re being bombarded.”

He ensures to come across as more of a friend than a businessman. “It’s social media so we use it for what it was made for – to be social. We don’t do many promotions. We do competitions, though, because we want to reward our followers and they are genuinely engaged with competitions we run.

“We try to feature our customers and our staff in our posts as much as possible to keep it friendly and interesting. Shoppers love to see themselves in our posts.”

Jai has recently been carrying out a competition called ‘tag a mate’. Jai takes a picture of a product in the store, such as a 10-pack of Coca-Cola, and posts the picture with the caption ‘tag a mate you would share this with’. Social media followers then tag their friends in the picture, which not only enters them into the competition, but also introduces their friend to the store’s social media page. Jai then awards one winner and their tagged friend with a 10-pack of Coca-Cola each. This post got 18 shares, giving the post a wide reach.

Mandeep maintains that competitions are a must. “We run three or four product giveaways a week – the more the merrier! The cost of a giveaway is so little compared with what you get back. There are no purchases involved in our competitions – it’s all based on a ‘like and share’ mechanism.”

While it is possible to connect all social media accounts so the same post appears across all sites, this may not be the best option.

Dan used to have his Facebook account linked to his Twitter account, but over time he has noticed Twitter has become used less by shoppers and used more in a B2B fashion. For example, he finds Twitter very useful for connecting with brands and suppliers and trade magazines.

Jai agrees that Twitter is more about business people networking rather than communicating with shoppers. In fact, he’s taken a lot of his communication with shoppers to Snapchat.

“The good thing with Snapchat is that you can send personal messages to the people you add. So rather than your posts just coming up on their newsfeed, like it would with Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, it will appear in their inbox and they will be notified of it.”

Jai says: “Snapchat, for me, is one that is on the rise; Snapchat is developing Snapchat for businesses because they have noticed that a lot of businesses are using it.

“Snapchat is the one that excited us the most when we discovered that. We looked into having a business page which basically means you get your own ‘channel’, but that costs thousands of pounds so only huge firms have those. Instead, we branded up our Snapchat account and added our friends, family and shoppers.”

The fun element of Snapchat is the user’s ability to draw on photos and videos. This tool is usually used to make images humorous in some way. Jai uses this function often.

“It allows us to customise a picture with text, drawings and images. More recently they’ve brought out the function where you can create a caricature of yourself so I’ve done that with me and I put that into pictures to add a personal and humorous element to them.

“Once I have made a picture or video on Snapchat, I will usually post it across my other social media sites as well so I reach a wide range of people,” he says.

As with all new technology, there is some new jargon to understand. A ‘filter’ on Snapchat will simply include writing and images, whereas a ‘lens’ distorts the user’s face.

Dan says he makes the most of all Snapchat has to offer. “With Snapchat you get such great engagement. While Facebook is good for reaching our mainstream audience, Snapchat is a great way to interact with younger shoppers. Customers love adding us.”

Dan has encouraged shoppers to publicise his popular fresh pasty offering within their Snapchat accounts.

“We did a ‘Win a pasty by lunchtime’ competition, where Snapchat users simply had to repost our snap as part of their ‘story’ (a compilation of snaps that create a narrative) in order to enter the competition. The winner won a pasty for lunch. That got a lot of interest from shoppers and it only cost me a £2 pasty.”

Potentially even more useful for retailers is the new Geofilter function, which allows users to design custom filters which people can put on their snaps if they are within a certain radius of the store. The area must be between 20,000 and 5 million sq ft and cannot be active for more than 30 days.

Big companies can pay hundreds of thousands of pounds to have their own filter featured on snapchats across the UK.

On-Demand Geofilters for businesses can use branding, business marks and other promotional content, but they cannot use photographs of people, URLs, phone numbers or emails and must adhere to Snapchat’s terms and policies.

The cost of filters starts from about £5, while sponsored lenses — video filters that go over selfies — can sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds per day. 

In the past, Jai has created his own filter and encouraged shoppers to take part in a ‘Snapchat of the week’ competition, where they take a picture of themselves with the filter and the best posted on any one of Jai’s social media channels is given a £5 voucher to use in store.

“We haven’t done those for a few weeks now and we’ve actually had some of our younger shoppers coming in and asking if we can start doing them again. That’s a good hit of advertising for just £5,” he says.

Dan created a Geofilter when a popular festival was taking place near his store. This allowed him to capture a large number of views within a small space.

“I set up a filter which appeared for anyone using the app when on the festival site, between the Friday and Sunday. This meant they could take a photo of themselves, as lots of people do at festivals, and add my filter to their pictures. It only cost me about £30, but it got a lot of engagement. People were coming from the festival to my store and were sending pictures of themselves with the filter to one another. The other good thing about Snapchat is that it allows you to see how many people have viewed your filter – mine got about 3,500 views.”

Dan understands that making one of these filters can be time consuming as there are strict guidelines to stick to. He recalls that when he was making his filter he sometimes had to wait several days for the Snapchat team to get back to him to confirm if that filter was usable or not.

However, he points out that there are websites offering help, advice and templates.

There are also ‘Community Geofilters’. These are free filters for your village or community, but have even stricter guidelines and logos are not allowed, so Dan hasn’t bothered with these as yet.

Mandeep says retailers have to keep their social media activity going on a daily basis to get maximum effect. His advice is to keep a steady stream of communication.

“I spend an hour-and-a-half per day on our Facebook page. Be active every day – some people say no one uses their page, but they haven’t posted anything since Easter! You’re the engine behind it. You need to be switched on.”

Dan says that retailers might be better off deciding they are going to update their social media every two or three days, rather than committing themselves to it every day. “Sometimes, if you can’t be sure you’ll have time to keep updating the sites, I think it’s better to say you’re going to post every two or three days rather than every day as you have to be able to keep up the momentum.

“I did make the mistake once of saying I will reveal the winner of a competition on a Friday, then forgetting to post on that day and I received posts from shoppers wondering who the winner was.”

Jai urges those retailers uncertain about the importance of  Snapchat and Instagram to think of the benefits and embrace all social media sites. He states: “If you want to reach the maximum number of shoppers, you have to be on all of the four sites.”

Live streaming

Facebook’s new real-time function

Facebook has recently developed a real-time function which retailers can use to show shoppers what’s going on in their store as it happens. This could be useful for any community or charity event, or perhaps to show off your staff making food-to-go products, to get shoppers’ taste buds tingling before lunch.

In order to get plenty of views, it’s best to inform followers what will be filmed and when it will go live so they know when to tune in. After the video has gone live, it can be retrieved at any time by any followers who missed it when it was live.

Mos Patel used this function during the opening of the Family Shopper in Ashton Under Lyne, Manchester. The video received more than 900 views on Facebook.


Despite being busy with Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, Dan and Jai still find time to use their Instagram accounts as well.

Jai says: “Instagram is something I think has got a big potential. Instagram is all about good images and effective hashtags. I mostly use Instagram to promote different products in store.

“I’ve found this a more difficult egg to crack in terms of making it work for our business. It’s important for us to be on there as it’s another platform for getting our name out there, but we use Snapchat much more often and often link Snapchat posts to our Instagram feed.”

Dan agrees it’s important to be on Instagram, even if his posts aren’t as frequent there.

“Instagram is a great way to get a ‘short and sharp’ messages to your shoppers without having to spend lots of time writing comments. It’s good to be on there because it provides us with another social media avenue for communicating with our shoppers.”