Small Business Marketing

Social Networking in the Retail Industry

Written by Amy Bax for Gaebler Ventures

If you are a locally-owned business in the retail industry that does not mean you cannot have a powerful online presence. Here are some simple ways to get started when it comes to social networking and creating online awareness.

Many stores now offer an online presence where people can go to purchase products and have what they buy shipped without having to leave the house.

But many smaller and locally owned retail stores don't have the resources to build an ecommerce presence and operated it efficiently. It's not that it's overly difficult or expensive, but just that there are other priorities and it takes a fair amount of time to do it right.

This does not mean your store cannot get involved in the online and social networking trend. Here are a few suggestions for smaller companies to be able to effectively become involved online to promote what they do.

Start a Blog

If you choose to start a blog, find a niche in your market that needs attention and focus on topics of interest. If you own a sporting goods store, for example, appeal to avid runners and blog about new shoe technology, marathon running strategies, or new spots in your local area that may be of interest to jog through.

Encourage runners to share their favorite spots to run, strategies they use, etc. Always remember to make the blog a two-way experience. By attracting a niche market, you are solidifying their business with you versus your competitors. When you feel comfortable and established in one niche, consider expanding to another niche in the same target market.

Creating a MySpace Presence for Your Small Business

If you decide you want to have an online presence and you cater to a younger audience, MySpace is the way to go. It's relatively quick and easy to set up your small business presence on MySpace. MySpace lets you quickly and easily add text, photos, video, audio, comments, keyword tagging and more.

Having some form of online presence gives you a chance to inform customers about what products you sell and provide information about the industry. Also, by providing a place for them to find directions and store hours, you make it that much more convenient for your potential customers to find you before they find your competitors. It is also a good way to promote sales or specials going on in your stores.

If customer service representatives play a crucial role in the experience you provide at your retail store, you may want to use the blog function on MySpace to introduce your sales team. For example, an electronics store can have a separate entry for each sales representative. Each entry could include a little background information about them and what they specialize in. Maybe one person can discuss their interest and knowledge about digital cameras and photography in general.

A potential customer may feel more comfortable going to that person and asking questions and personal recommendations because, based on having visited your MySpace blog, they know a little more about the representative and their background in electronics.

Build Affinity Groups to Generate Buzz and Interest

If you are a part of Facebook or MySpace, create groups for your audience to participate in. If you own a Wine Shop, create a group that has a "Wine of the Month" discussion or discuss restaurants in town with the best wine lists. In this case, consider working with the restaurants in the online community. Become connected with them and share opinions and suggestions with each other. People will see the connection and communication and may choose to visit your shop or their restaurant. A working relationship that benefits both of you!

Answer Questions Online

A recent trend has been to work on customer service through a company's online presence. Because you are already trying to connect more with the customer on a more personal basis (one of the obvious goals of social networking), have a spot on your site or take time in your blog to address the issue if it is raised on a regular basis. Respond in a timely manner to both negative and positive comments and figure out what you can do to resolve any negative ones.

Amy Bax is interested in providing innovative informational resources to entrepreneurs. She is currently an MBA student at the University of Missouri - Columbia.

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