December 1, 2015

To appreciate the power of social media, think of it like a massive town square in which the entire world is present. You can go there as much as you want and spend as much time as you want, and it’s always free. You can say anything you want—about yourself or about anyone else—and no one will filter you. (Yes, there is some moderation on social media, but within the bounds of good taste, this is still true.)

So, if you can say or do something that stands out, you’ve theoretically got the attention of the entire world, and you never had to spend a dime getting it. Pretty cool, huh? The one small wrinkle, of course, is that everyone else in the world is trying as hard as you are to get everybody’s attention. So all you have to do is be more clever and interesting than everyone else. How hard could that be?

That’s the power of the opportunity—and the height of the challenge—involved with marketing a pet retailer on social media. Is it implausible that you can get the spotlight on yourself sufficiently to make social media a truly powerful marketing tool?

Not necessarily. Consider a few things you’ve got going for you. A lot of people on social media are not all that clever or interesting, so the competition in reality may not be terribly fierce. And if George Takei can turn himself into a social media phenomenon posting fairly unremarkable memes on a constant basis, why shouldn’t you be able to do it?

Pet retailers don’t need to make their content viral on a global basis to make social media an effective tool. What they need is to consistently and effectively engage their own core constituency, which consists of pet owners and their friends and family in their communities. But it remains true that consistently clever messages that get people’s attention allow the potential of social media to become real in many cases.

So What Are a Pet Retailer’s Best Opportunities There?

It starts with this: Pets are awesome subjects for photography and even better for video. Who owns pets? Your customers, that’s who! Social media provides an excellent opportunity for you to engage with your customers and their friends by offering the opportunity for them to share pet photos and videos. Even if the content is not of their own pets, the social media world doesn’t care and neither should you. The point is to be as interesting as possible and to keep the people most important to you connected and engaged.

Pet retailers have wonderful opportunities to do this on social media. By using everything from videos and photos to cartoons and audio, and even just the written word, they can lead the celebration of our pet friends and invite the communities around them to take part. Whether that comes from customer-submitted content or something you found searching Google for “adorable pet footage,” social media provides the opportunity to engage people every day.

This is not to say your social media presence shouldn’t include product and service information. The key is to pepper that in with the things that keep people engaged with—and sharing—your posts. If your page is a favorite because people enjoy what you regularly offer, they’ll accept and embrace the occasions when you do some old-fashioned selling. The mix should also include helpful information about pet health, diet, activities and all kinds of other things that are valuable to pet owners.

Social media is free to use, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to devote resources to it. If nothing else, you at least need an employee who knows their way around social media and can be freed up to spend a significant portion of their time on the clock putting out material. Too many companies try to do it on the cheap by designating one or two people for whom it is a very low priority, and the result is a post or two a week—if that. This is a mistake. That person sitting on the computer “playing on Facebook” is actually doing something that can make a real difference for your store. It’s real work. Let them do it.

This is not to say there’s no room for traditional marketing in your strategy or your budget. But this column focused on social media because its potential is so large. It’s time to take advantage. Driving traffic to your store via social media offers the potential to limit what you have to invest in more traditional marketing venues. If that’s not worth a try, I don’t know what is.

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