How Leading Retailers Created Successful Social Media Marketing Strategies

Social media networks are valuable assets for retailers — to engage with shoppers and as an additional vehicle for paid advertising. In fact, advertisers spent $23.68 billion on paid social media in 2015 alone, and spending is expected to reach $35.98 billion by 2017, according to this infographic from Instart Logic.

But consumers are inundated with ads whenever they sign on to social platforms, which does not bode well for the brands. Marketers should take note of a number of other ways to generate social buzz with consumers, including Facebook-sponsored posts and Snapchat filters designed to promote a new product launch. Some forward-thinking marketers also are taking their social push to new levels by offering personalized sales, discounts and customer services that are only available through specific social platforms.

“Traditionally, social media marketing was all about creating one big campaign for all channels,” said Stef Dorfer, Retail Editor at Stylus, a research and advisory firm, in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “The focus is now on smaller projects and campaigns that reach different audiences via various separate channels. Once approached with ‘one-size-fits-all’ thinking, today’s social media advertising is highly customer- and platform-targeted.”


Social Media Marketing: Still A Learning Process

Although retailers and companies such as Target, Taco Bell and Birchbox already have dabbled in creative social media advertisements, many marketers still have a lot to learn about the art of social media.

Social Media Examiner’s 2016 Social Media Marketing Industry Report highlighted the top issues marketers surveyed are facing today, including:

  • Understanding which social tactics are most effective (92%);
  • Figuring out how to best connect with people (90%); and
  • Locating ideal customers and prospects on social networks (86%). 

Additionally, and possibly more concerning, many marketers are using their time and resources on social media just for the sake of saying they have a social presence.

“Social media should be part of the greater marketing strategy,” said Jessica Liu, Senior Analyst, B2C Marketing at Forrester, in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Too often, marketers lead with technology first, like picking Facebook, and then back into a strategy. In reality, it starts with your audience, then an objective, a strategy, and ends with technology.”

Liu suggests the following questions marketers should ask before developing a social media strategy:

  • What does my audience want and are they even on social media?
  • What is my business objective?
  • What strategy will I create to meet my audience’s needs and ultimately fulfill my business objective?
  • Which social networks and technologies will help me execute my strategy? 

Some experts also assert that social media advertising shouldn’t be a brand’s sole social strategy. Instead, it should be used to supplement other marketing efforts.  

“Retailers should make sure they deeply understand their user base, average click-through rates and costs on each of the platforms they’re using to advertise,” according to Natalie Kotlyar, Partner at BDO, in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “For example, if you’re a teen apparel retailer, most of your audience will not be on LinkedIn, which is almost always used by college-age or professional-age consumers. But if you’re a retailer selling tailored custom suits, this may be the right audience; and while LinkedIn ads often yield lower click-through rates, the users behind the clicks are often more qualified than users on other platforms.”

Visual Storytelling On Social Media Is Exploding

With the increasing popularity of video capabilities on social media, it’s safe to say smart marketers are paying attention to video and visual storytelling as a key social strategy.

As many as 60% of brands are using video in their marketing strategies, while 74% said they plan on increasing their use of video, according to the Social Media Examiner Report.  Additionally, a new report from app marketing and data company Sensor Tower found that video ads comprised approximately 25% of Instagram’s advertising in June 2016.

“More content formats for advertising have become available to retailers: Instagram and Snapchat introduced ‘Stories’ features that enable more robust and strategic storytelling, and Pinterest launched promoted videos,” said Kotlyar. “Across the board, social media advertising is trending towards visual storytelling and video.”

Get Inspired: Best-In-Class Examples Of Social Media Advertising

A number of retailers have created out-of-the-box social media campaigns and advertisements. Here are just a few that are getting it right:

Target and Harry’s: When men’s grooming brand Harry’s launched at Target, the retailers took a social media approach to announce the news. For a short period of time, Snapchat users received a clean shave via the platform’s facial recognition lens in honor of the new Harry’s/Target partnership.

This is visual storytelling done right. Target and Harry’s made the Snapchat user part of the campaign. And whether or not the user actually posted a photo or video with the lens, it was still visible in the options when a user scrolled to choose a lens — which generated buzz.

Taco Bell: While Target utilized a Snapchat facial recognition lens to promote the release of Harry’s in its stores, Taco Bell created one to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. The fast-food chain introduced a “taco head” lens that was viewed 224 million times, showing that generating buzz doesn’t have to mean promoting products. The campaign became the most successful in Snapchat history.

J.Crew: J.Crew gave its 1.5 million Instagram followers a unique treat: In Aug. 2016, the retailer launched its first Instagram sale to generate buzz for a pair of pink sunglasses. According to Glossy, J.Crew also teased the sale on Instagram’s new “Stories” feature.

Hosting a sale on a visual social media outlet such as Instagram is fairly easy. While there are no options to include a link with a photo, solutions such as Curalate’s Like2Buy offer a way to make Instagram photos shoppable with a single link in the biography. These solutions allow the user to shop for items they see in the photo without having to leave the platform.

“Social media is the biggest consumer recommendation engine, but until these new social commerce solutions arrived, making a purchase required leaving the social platform to visit the retailer’s web site,” said BDO’s Kotlyar. “That one extra step can result in missed sales, whether due to lost interest or choosing to buy elsewhere. Retailers might not be able to beat Amazon at the e-Commerce game, but social media, and social commerce, is still wide open.”

Stylus’ Dorfer also shared some social media campaigns that have made an impact:

“Some of the best examples of social media advertising meeting e-Commerce to date, are beauty brand Lancôme and U.S. discount retailer Target’s 10-second promo videos embedded in ‘swipe up’ messages on Snapchat,” she said. “Swiping up reveals relevant product pages on a mobile site, from which users can buy direct while still in-app.”

“Another example is apparel retailer Everlane, which has used Snapchat as a way to make announcements and launch behind-the-scenes exclusives. One campaign included a secret shop containing limited edition items only open to customers at specific times, as posted on Snapchat. The company helped its followers to find the shop through a series of sneaky interactive tasks, concluding the story in the New York office where the location of the store was revealed.”

Social media has given brands a new platform for creating engaging advertisements, and retailers should pay attention. The question is no longer, “Should I advertise on social media?,” but “How do I advertise on social media?” Creativity is key in order to stand out, as the consumer’s feed already is swarmed with ads. 


Image: Twin Design /

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