The Retail Social Media Model
The Retail Social Media Model
The Retail Social Media Model

Retail organizations can differ greatly from traditional B2C businesses – with their dynamics presenting a series of unique opportunities and challenges around the development of social media strategy and tactical implementation.

On the plus side, retail has some inherent characteristics that are very conducive to social media. One colleague, David Ian Gray, often refers to retail as a “natural social network”, where brick and mortar stores act as community hubs – conduits for people with similar interests to gather. In addition, he feels that retail has a built-in “theatrical element” that facilitates experiences and fuels word of mouth communication – very helpful when it comes to social media.

On the minus side, retail also presents a series of organizational challenges around store operations, geographic dispersion and departmental silos – all of which can threaten the success of any social media initiative.

Retail Social Media Model - Mark Smiciklas

Department Integration – Social media touches all facets of an organization and the retail sector is no exception. What is unique, however, is the added challenge presented by store operations which are physically removed from head office. It’s essential to factor in the role of street level teams when it comes to executing a plan and subsequent social media campaign. One example might include in store calls to action – operations will play a key role in facilitating the transition from an online campaign to a positive in-store experience.

Brand Integration – Individual retail stores within a chain may be unique in how they operate, merchandise, promote and connect with local audiences. As a result, there is an increased need for retail organizations to implement social media strategies that communicate a consistent brand message across potentially different product offerings, stores, staff and events.

Shared Purpose – Retailers are known for implementing an ongoing stream of tactics, programs and promotions. In order for social media to be successful within this environment, it’s important for all stakeholders to understand the organizational purpose of any digital strategy – For example, one client produced a video (accessed by all employees via their intranet) that outlined the purpose of their social media program and how it would benefit the organization. Having all departments and front line staff connected to a strategy increases effectiveness of execution and creates a better chance for success.

Relevant Content – Front line staff have huge social media influence within the retail environment. Store level employees are directly responsible for the delivery of customer experience – the information they receive via internal social media i.e. product information, training, etc. helps position them to successfully deliver a positive customer experience. This, in turn, fuels positive word of mouth that builds brand equity. As a result, offering relevant social media content to external AND internal audiences becomes critical for retail organizations.

Social Media Planning – There are basically two overarching goals for any social media initiative…to make money or save money – These apply to the retail sector as well. But the retail environment also has some unique objectives that require an integrated effort with respect to metrics. For example, one retail social media goal might be driving traffic to store. In order to effectively measure this, retailers need to factor in offline data and have a method to correlate social media analytics with in-store performance.

Do you see any other differences between retail and B2B/B2C social media strategy models? I’d love hear your thoughts and ideas about social media in the retail sector. The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Mark Smiciklas
Mark Smiciklas is a Digital Strategist, author and President of Intersection Consulting; a Vancouver based digital marketing agency that teaches organizations how to leverage the dynamics of the web to achieve business goals. Mark is an established marketing and social media practitioner recognized for his visual thinking and practical strategic approach. You can connect with him on Google+.
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  • Amir farzad

    This model is amazing. I want to  use it in my DBA thesis. Dear Mark please give me a clue if there is an academic background for this model so that I can use it.

    • Hi Amir – feel free to use the model with proper attribution. FYI – there is no academic background to this model…it’s based on my experience working with retailers.

  • Elizabeth York

    Great article about the social media model, for more tips on using social media marketing for retailers check out this interview with Clay McDaniel:

  • Bart

    Another nice model by Mark, very transparant! Where to place this model in the Social Media models landscape? (

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  • Thanks Mark for the great blog post. The model given could be greatly expanded adding the Branding using social recruitment

  • The model you provide is awesome. This is a great article. I agree with David, the consistent branding across the board is the most important point you make.

  • hbflynn

    Great article… your points about department integration are a bit more complex IMO though. It comes down to the dollars. Retailers are infamous for having separate digital and store groups. More and more retailers are finally coming around to the one customer theory but this is a much more complex issue for large, national retailers who traditionally have siloed budgets. Who pays for ad buys/social programs, etc that use a digital medium to drive in-store sales. It comes down to who has more juice within their organization. In some companies it is the ecomm teams in others it is the merchant groups. Most marketing is centralized and then distributed to the local store managers, selecting from a corporate approved message. The successful retailers are the ones who can get past this in-fighting. In effect treat the customer as a person and not a channel.

    • Thanks for dropping by and for offering up some excellent insight regarding the integration challenges faced by retailers. Interesting comments about “in-fighting”. I have also noticed that a lack of cooperation between marketing and operations creates some huge hurdles when it comes to social media integration – this can include training of in-store staff, delivering on the last mile of an in-store promotion (i.e. redemption) or even around the development of content that involves in-store staff.

  • Very Very nice, I think that your are 100 percent correct, the strategy has to continue offline as well in order for it to work. As David Mention the consistent brand message across departments is the key point.

    Thank you for a very relevant post!

    • Thanks Anthony – Great point about integrating online and offline.

  • These are excellent points, but the one that sticks out the most is the consistent brand message across departments. We've all been in situations in traditional companies where HR doesn't know what marketing's doing, and neither does the head office. Social media transcends departments, because they don't exist in the environment they're participating in.

    Therefore, it's paramount that a company (especially larger ones) have a consistent strategy that's communicated company-wide to put their “best face forward” and not alienate or confuse any segments of their target market.

    • Thanks for the comment David. I agree that communicating social media goals (or the purpose of any other initiative for that matter) is critical, particularly where front line staff are disconnected from leadership teams. Keeping as many people in the loop when it comes to organizational objectives contributes to the development of a consistent brand message.

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