Article

Josh Wallin
Josh Wallin 20 June 2019

Don’t Go to War with the Robots: How to Create a Paid Social Strategy for Your Retail Business

In April this year, global cosmetics brand Lush announced that it would close down its social media presence in the UK, citing the rising cost of social platforms, and a refusal to do battle with algorithms. However, Lush may be making life harder for consumers, while limiting the amount of control it has over its online content. Rather than looking at algorithms as a battle to be fought, brands should embrace the possibilities that they hold. Here are five practical tips that brands can implement to begin building a paid social strategy that delivers results.

In April this year, global cosmetics brand Lush announced that it would close down its social media presence in the UK. This sent ripples across the marketing press, given that the brand had a community of half a million UK followers on Instagram, and over 200,000 on Twitter.

The brand cited the rising costs of social media, and a refusal to do battle with algorithms as the reasons behind the move. But in a world where almost every brand is talking to consumers wherever they are online, with much of this being on social media, Lush may be making life harder for consumers, while limiting the amount of control it has over its online content.

However, rather than looking at algorithms as a battle to be fought, brands should embrace the possibilities that they hold. Here are five practical tips that brands can implement to begin building a paid social strategy that delivers results.

1. Recognise that it’s where your customers are that’s important

Brands should always look to build a dialogue with their customers wherever they can be found online. Given that 67% of the UK population is on social media, it’s a marketing channel that cannot be ignored. A failure to be online is essentially ignoring over half of your potential customer base. But it goes beyond that: you need to consider where your customers are geographically and in what context. That way, your social advertising strategy can be tailored to reach the right people in the right places. Where your physical stores are, for example.

2. Make it as easy for your customers as possible to talk to you

In the age of the pervasive web, being available to answer your customers’ questions quickly shouldn’t be underestimated. The time when a customer would call up a local store to ask for opening times, or details about a product, are long gone. Now, they expect to be able to not only send a message on Facebook but utilise Messenger and Whatsapp with business as naturally as with friends. Taking this away means your customers have one less channel to interact with your brand, and are less likely to bring you into their inner circle of trusted brands that they remain loyal to.

3. Personalisation is everything

There is nothing more annoying for consumers than irrelevant and badly timed adverts that appear in their feed. Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms offer myriad ways to target audiences in a really easy way. Of course, at scale, this becomes much harder and labour-intensive. If you have large numbers of audience segments then you should start to look at automating the creative process with a third party provider. But no matter what route you go down, you should always have some element of personalisation that uses different advert creatives for different demographics.

4. Be creative

Many businesses don’t think that they have the resources to commit to creating a constant stream of beautiful adverts, but it doesn’t need to be difficult. There are a number of tools out there that can be used to build great looking adverts, at scale, and deploy them to the right audience. Many of these tools can even integrate directly with product catalogues, taking much of the legwork away. Not settling for just standard formats but using video, stories and custom placements can make a dramatic difference. Utilising smart data points like weather, location, user preferences and more can help to customise the experience in unexpected ways.

5. Embrace the algorithms!

Lush’s decision to remove themselves from social media in the UK was largely down to a “refusal to do battle with algorithms”. While it can be easy to think that algorithms are there to throttle a business’ reach, the opposite is true. It means businesses can use it to their advantage, and ensure they are reaching the right people, in the right place, at the right time. They are designed to make the consumer’s experience better, and brands should be embracing that. Moreover, rules are there to be broken. What works for one business may not work for another, so experiment, and see what works for you. They also help brands - you can optimise your budget so you never spend more than you want.

No matter how much a brand values its social presence, having something is almost always better than having nothing. In the case of Lush, their plan is to switch to a more influencer-led approach, where they work with third-party social media influencers to promote their products.

As a consequence of closing its owned social accounts, Lush will lose the control of what their audience sees online, its influence over ad creatives, and control over its messaging.

A worrying percentage of brand executives say they feel a loss of control over their social footprint. With the removal of Lush's social accounts, they may join that number as they switch to using influencer networks.

The main thing for businesses to remember is that generally, Facebook and the other social platforms offer a level playing field. Brands should embrace the algorithms, and utilise the constantly changing possibilities new channels and formats offer to interact with customers. For example, Instagram stories and shopping could be a format that resonates with their audience.

Ultimately, it’s worth constantly monitoring the opportunities social media presents. As the platforms grow, and the online retail space continues to be competitive, businesses need to ensure they’re not being left behind; outperformed and outsold by their competitors.

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