To market, to market: retailers must tap social media, reward employees
Small retail businesses can easily talk about their products and services once a potential customer is in front of them. However, getting their attention on social media can be a difficult maze to maneuver.
The first rule is to find which social media avenue best fits the business, according to Erica Robertson Wages, president of Marketing Monster in Newport News.
Wages was the keynote speaker last month at the 2013 Small Biz Expo presented in Newport News by Retail Alliance, a local nonprofit organization serving the Hampton Roads retail community.
More than 100 people attended her seminar, "Juggling the Hats of Today's Technologies," aimed to help small retail businesses understand the complicated advertising technique.
"Don't test all networks," Wages said. "Figure out what works for your business."
For example, Wages said LinkedIn is better suited for a company that sells to other businesses rather than a consumer-based enterprise.
For a consumer business that caters to customers' creativity, Wages suggested Pinterest is more appropriate. She noted that the website is currently the fastest-growing one, and it's especially useful for wedding-oriented businesses.
One way to get people's attention is with sales and discounts.
"Everyone is looking for a bargain these days," she said. "That is the climate. So even if you are offering just 20 percent off something, it will get attention.
"Be creative and be consistent. Look at your audience and take into consideration their age and what they like. To try to be everywhere is crazy," she said.
Posting photos rather than text is more effective on many social media websites.
"Pictures are more likely to be looked at and shared," she said. "It is also important that you encourage sharing, not just 'likes.' "
Wages warned that being popular on social media websites does not equal a successful business. The idea is to get people to purchase products and services.
Wages, known for her nontraditional marketing ideas, said deciding what to present on the social media websites can be difficult.
"Allow others in the company to present their ideas," she said. "Have a team mentality with an environment of free-flowing ideas."
For instance, even employees who work in accounting or other non-marketing departments should be encouraged to present ideas, Wages said.
Business owners should also establish a personal Facebook page that's separate from their business Facebook page.
"Social media is overwhelming, and it is only going to get worse," she said.
Wages also touted an old-fashioned marketing idea: networking.
"Make sure you make eye contact when meeting someone. It is a calming effect," she said.
"And if you want referrals for your business, then you need to give them," Wages said.
Michael Glover, a vice president with Monarch Bank, said an event such as the expo, which more than 200 people attended, is a great way to network. Monarch Bank caters to small businesses.
"We see small businesses as a value to the area," he said. "We believe that small businesses view us as a partner when we are at events such as this."
Unfortunately, the best marketing efforts don't necessarily improve employee retention, Wages said. But, conversely, having loyal employees can work wonders for growing your business.
One of her clients had an employee turnover rate of 70 percent in the last year. The client's sales were not good. She coached the client that in order for people to purchase from her, the business must have employees who believe in the business and know the products well enough to sell them.
Rewarding good employees is an avenue for free publicity as well, Wages said.
If you give an employee an award or promotion, then announce it. It gives the employee a good feeling, and it puts the company's name in various media outlets, she said.
"Overall, at least 10 percent of profits should be devoted to marketing," she said.
Regionally, the retail climate seems good, according to Ray Mattes, president and CEO of the alliance.
"There has been slight growth," he said, noting that the next indicator will be the back-to-school shopping season.
However, the federal sequestration that includes a cut in work hours for many federal employees could slow overall growth, Mattes said. Many workers will have reduced hours starting this month.
"Retailers will be impacted," he said, "and it will take some time to see the effects."