What kind of a relationship did you have with your favourite retailers a few years ago? Maybe you were a regular shopper. The staff knew you and could already suggest ideas based on what you had bought before, but would they send you a message on your phone asking what you planned to have for lunch?
It sounds a bit odd when you consider it like that, but big retail companies like Marks & Spencer and House of Fraser now have a very friendly and personal online presence. Go and take a look at their Twitter accounts.
I looked just now and I can see M&S advising me to do 2.5 hours of exercise every week and to promise to smile more often in 2013. The House of Fraser team are talking about how nice their lunch was and asking followers what they are up to in the afternoon.
This is not old-style selling based on price, or value, or even having a better range of products. This is community building in action. Many retailers know that customers have an association with their brand, they have shopped at the stores and know the company well, and they are now humanising the brand through these social media conversations.
Of course it can be hard to analyse the cause and effect of talking about lunch on Twitter and seeing sales in the store immediately increase, but there is clearly a direct benefit of engaging with customers and building a large community of people who like your brand – social media engagement can be valuable without needing to be a direct sales pitch.
So I’m going to try smiling more, but if I start talking about lunch too often then I’ll need more than 2.5 hours of exercise a week to compensate for it.
Photo by Chris Elt licensed under Creative Commons