It’s here: the most wonderful time of the year. The holiday season is officially upon us, and for many retail and ecommerce brands, it is what they look forward to the entire year – bringing with it the opportunity for new customer acquisition and heightened consumer spending. In fact, according to Adobe, during the launch of last year’s holiday season (Nov. 1 to Nov. 29), U.S. consumers spent an astounding $109.8B online.
But, when thinking about all retailers, it begs the question: is it really the most wonderful time of the year? While holiday season spending can be a significant driver for many big box retailers’ bottom line, for smaller businesses, this time of the year is often the most challenging.
Slashing prices to make a sale is often not realistic, and with limited marketing dollars at their disposal, competing with the mass advertising spend of larger organizations requires solopreneurs and small business owners to get creative. In order to stand out during the holiday season, small businesses need to leverage their deep understanding of their customers to deliver more personalized experiences, test 1:1 marketing through direct messaging and get bold with their marketing strategies. Creating thumb-stopping content that gets people talking is often the key to success.
The best place to do that? On social. For small businesses with a limited (or non-existent) advertising budget, social has become the great equalizer. As an organization that connects with businesses of all sizes everyday, Hootsuite has had the privilege of learning from some of the brightest marketing minds in the business, and what we’ve found is that some of the most creative and gritty are small businesses.
With Small Business Saturday around the corner, we’ve pulled together the top strategies that these small businesses have brought to life to help increase sales by using social media.
Be a loud and proud small business owner
Consumers are increasingly more conscious and aware of the benefits of ‘buying local,’ which gives small businesses a competitive advantage – but only if they make it known. Hootsuite customer Magnolia Soap Company has a beautiful feed of aesthetically pleasing product photos on their social platforms which, at first glance, could easily have consumers mistake them for a large retail company. But how they set themselves apart is from leaning into their personal story, and they see great engagement on the social posts that do just that. Where the brand provides a peek into their business, such as a video showing them actually making the soap or the team gathering together to give back this holiday season, Magnolia highlights the fact they are small and part of the community – in turn, building an affinity for their brand and a stronger relationship with customers.
Be storytellers and entertain
Our Global State of Digital 2022 report found there are now over 4.7 billion users on social media globally, who are spending nearly 2.5 hours on social every day. When looking deeper into how the time is being spent, the top three reasons cited by those surveyed were keeping in touch with friends and family, filling spare time, and reading news stories.
As a small business, it’s important to think about how great a privilege it is to be in the feed of your customers. Seeking out brands didn’t rank until seventh on the list, meaning that the content small businesses create – which will run alongside photos and videos of friends and family – needs to be worthy. It needs to entertain and engage. And to do that, it’s important that brands have a deep understanding of their audience on social, including where they spend their time, how they talk, what they need and what they find entertaining. And then, produce content they will find valuable.
Stephanie Stuckey, CEO of Stuckey’s, knew from the moment she bought back her family namesake business (then six figures in debt) that to launch a comeback, she needed to restore the nostalgia that existed in her brand.
She knew exactly who she was trying to reach and has stayed true to her content strategy from day one, calling herself the Chief Storyteller for her company – reminding people of their car trips in the southern United States as kids and stopping at a Stuckey’s for a pecan log roll. Stephanie knows those memories evoke a sense of community, and by tapping into them, has inspired people to want to help her succeed and be part of her comeback story.
This is a true example of the power of storytelling. Rarely will you see Stephanie promote her product directly on social; instead, she uses it as a venue to bring her brand to life and, in doing that, has seen a 750% increase in her online sales in only two years.
Build community and engage
Social media shouldn’t be used as a megaphone, acting like the loudest person in the room. Instead, small businesses should leverage the power of social to start conversations and build relationships.
Although the reach of social is global and, quite frankly, feels unlimited, the true power of it is in the ability to tap into smaller, niche communities. Small businesses must never lose sight of who they are actually looking to engage with on social, and stay true to that audience. Social feeds are where consumers will post their experiences, good and bad, and what sets good from great business owners apart are those that take the time to listen to what customers are saying about the brand and its products.
Engage with your audience when they love your brand, and don’t shy away from them when they don’t. Use all feedback as an opportunity to learn, to address their concerns and frustrations, thank them for their business, make them advocates of your brand, and encourage them to keep coming back.
Global Pet Foods is a shining example of this. They know their customer is a pet owner, and that those pet owners love their pets. To drive engagement, the brand often promotes giveaways on its Instagram page, with the most recent example being this Halloween campaign. By tapping into the fact that their customers would be proud of their pet costumes, Global Pet Foods encouraged their audience to engage with the brand by sharing pet photos, while also expanding their reach by having them follow their accounts for a chance to win a gift basket.
It’s really no different than the sales experience in brick and mortar stores; when those behind the counter or on the sales floor are engaging and customers connect with them, the direct result is greater sales. In essence, small businesses are building community on social, but in order for it to be successful, they need to commit to managing and sustaining that community. Engage consistently and often. If small businesses can do that on social, at scale, they will see results.
Get super targeted
Social media can get very congested over the holiday season, with the big brands spending a lot on advertising. For small businesses that lack the reach and budget to compete in this area, try a more organic approach to get the word out to your audience about any holiday promotions or sales you may have.
You won’t win in a fight against big business holiday budgets, so try DM’ing customers directly with promo codes, create entertaining TikToks or run a social media contest to engage and raise awareness with the existing audience you have. Word of mouth is powerful, and when you can create a loyal following of brand ambassadors through your existing customers, others will quickly hear about – and engage with – your brand as well.
And finally, the best piece of advice is to be brave. To reap the benefits of social, it’s important to be social, try new things and iterate.
Tom Keiser is the Chief Executive Officer at Hootsuite.