What is Social Media?

Snapchat : Illustration
••• Chesnot / Getty Images

Social media refers to websites and applications that are designed to allow people to share content quickly, efficiently, and in real-time. Most people define social media as apps on their smartphone or tablet, but the truth is, this communication tool started with computers. This misconception stems from the fact that most social media users access their tools via apps. 

The ability to share photos, opinions, events, etc in real-time has transformed the way we live and, also, the way we do business. Retailers who engage social media as an integral part of their marketing strategy usually see measurable results. But the key to successful social media is to not treat it like an extra appendage but to treat it with the same care, respect, and attention you do all of your marketing efforts. 

Social Media Marketing Is Fleeting

In the early days of social marketing, there was little competition for the dollar—not so today. For example, you can spend thousands of dollars on a Facebook ad campaign and, sometimes, get no return on your investment. By its very nature, social media is a short attention span media—it is much harder to get someone's attention with a Tweet then it was to get someone's attention with a newspaper ad. That's because ad headlines and copy are harder to write on Twitter or Instagram.  

You Must Be Active on Social Media

One of the biggest mistakes retailers make is to open up accounts on every social media platform they think is relevant and then leave them alone with no activity. Having an account with any of the social media platforms does not mean your business is into social media any more than owning golf clubs makes you ready for the PGA. In fact, social media users are turned off by the retailer who opens accounts and does not engage with clients and the public and consequently become labeled a pretender.

The reality is, it is better to not have a social media icon on your website if you are not going to actively engage with it—and actively means on a daily basis

Don't Make It All About You

The other big mistake retailers make is to use social media to talk about what is important to them rather than talking about what is important to the customer. As a retailer, you may think it is great to shout that you have a sale going on; and in some regards, this would be true. But, if that's the only reason you are getting involved in social media it won't be beneficial. Your goal should be to provide content that is relevant to your customer and engage with them to the point that they want to share your post with others.

If you use social media you need to engage with your customers, involve them in a dialogue, and ask them for their opinions. Post a picture of two items you are considering carrying in your store and ask customers which one they like best. This creates a dialogue which leads to shared posts which leads to engaged followers. Plus, if you follow this example, it will also lead to enhanced margins because your back and forth conversation will prevent you from buying the item that won't sell as well.

Images Are Key

Another thing to consider is that the most commonly-shared content on social media is an image. So, always include an image with your posts. This will dramatically increase your chances that one of your followers will share the post with their network. While building up a large network of followers is great, ultimately what you want is to have your followers—no matter how many you have—share what you're posting with their network, and those people will share your post with their followers, and so on.

This is the new form of "word of mouth" and it's what people mean when they say a post went "viral."