Social Media Marketing: How to Build Buzz for Your Retail Store

social media marketing for retail

There are more than half a million new small businesses every year. For a brand-new retailer without an existing customer base, spreading the word and generating sales poses a challenge.

Social media is one way to build buzz and attract customers to your new store. Almost all (91%) retailers use at least two social media channels, so that means there’s a lot of noise—and clutter—users have to cut through.

With a few creative content ideas, strategic paid targeting, and tools to help you track your efforts, social media can be a huge asset to building buzz for your brick-and-mortar store. 

Common social media challenges for retailers

Tracking real-life actions taken because of digital initiatives isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Here are five common challenges that retailers face when it comes to social media. If you can relate, you're not alone.

No existing audience

If you’re new to the scene, you don’t have the luxury of an already-existing audience—you’re starting from scratch.

Britni Johnson faced the challenge firsthand, when she worked with The Summit at Fritz Farm, an open-air retail mecca in Lexington, Kentucky, to promote its grand opening. Most of the brands were making their debut in the area, so local consumers didn’t recognize or know the retailers.

“Most of the community had no idea who [our] brands were,” she says.

We had a large task on our hands with generating excitement and really educating the city of Lexington on why they should be excited.

No ideas for content

A lack of social media content ideas poses yet another challenge, especially if you don't have an established customer base to inspire new options.

Anna Sullivan, co-founder and strategist of The Creative Exchange, worked with a client, Two Roosters Ice Cream, to promote their grand opening. One of their biggest challenges was a lack of content.

“We didn’t have any pictures of the store,” Sullivan says. They got creative and took pictures of the space, the product, ice cream out in the wild, and Implemented other creative ideas (like using staged shots to gain attention on social channels).

Before you blindly jump into your social media marketing efforts, start with a blueprint. “Plan first with a social media strategy,” Sullivan recommends.

Your strategy should include the following:

  • Goals
  • Audience definition
  • Which social channels you’ll use
  • Brand voice
  • Content suggestions

Your strategy should also touch on how you plan to spread the word. 

Sullivan recommends tagging local publications and newspapers. “A new business opening is easy to get journalists to tweet about, since it represents economic growth,” she says.

No time to dedicate to social media

Opening and managing a new store is busy for even the most seasoned retailer. Social media can easily fall to the bottom of your priority list. After all, what’s more important: sending out a tweet about the products you’re excited to reveal, or making sure said products are artfully merchandised when you open?

Additionally, social media may not be every retailer’s area of expertise. Therefore, it could take you longer to conquer the learning curve and to execute social media promotion.

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Not offering incentives for people to come shop

One mistake retailers often make is not offering an incentive for customers to physically visit their stores, especially if they're promoting a grand opening or an event. “Why would I go [to a grand opening] if there’s going to be a crowd, and I can come back in two days?” Sullivan says. “I’d rather just wait for there to be no line and no people to shop.”

Matt Hamm, president and owner of Computer Repair Doctor, made sure he didn’t make this mistake when promoting the grand opening of one of his retail locations. He offered people discounts on computer-repair services—plus free pizza and beverages.

Give people a reason to stop by. Make the event significant for the local resident,” he says.

Hamm’s suggestions for other retailers? “If you’re opening a bar/restaurant, give away free drinks or appetizers. Clothing store? Opening weekend discounts on your clothes.”

Although there’s never a single go-to answer for when to start promoting an opening or event, Sullivan has found in her experience the four to six weeks prior is a good time to start rolling on social media. This gives you enough time to build buzz, create relationships, and generate a following.

For Johnson, the scenario was a bit different, given the phased grand opening of several retail businesses in a single location.

“We did a huge social media campaign in anticipation of the entire center opening this year, starting the social channels from scratch a little over a year ago,” she says. Today, they have nearly 9,000 followers on Instagram and more than 16,000 on Facebook.

If your event is extra buzz-worthy, a prolonged launch strategy could be your best bet.

Small budget

Many retailers don’t have large budgets to invest in social media marketing. But, Sullivan advises that if you’re going to invest, do it at the start. “You want to invest upfront and then DIY it later, instead of the other way around.”

"If you don’t, you run the risk of damaging your brand," Sullivan says.

It’s generally better to enlist the help of an expert at the forefront. They can lay the blueprint for your social media marketing efforts moving forward, so all you have to do is execute. Starting a social media business account from scratch is extremely challenging, and you could waste a lot of fruitless hours trying to build it up yourself.

Additionally, if you don’t have a budget to promote your social media channels, your initial reach is going to suffer. Hamm learned this through his own experiences.

“Things we’ve tried that didn’t work were posting without a paid boost. Unless you’re paying to promote the post, it won’t have a high enough reach,” he says.


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Retail social media marketing content ideas

Capture behind-the-scenes visuals

Behind-the-scenes posts are a common go-to for social media content as they're easy and authentic to capture—and shoppers love them. “Sneak peeks make [consumers] feel a part of something,” says Sullivan.

Talk about what you’re working on,” she says. “Post about your Home Depot run to get more paint, your first shipment, assembling displays, and setting up inventory.

Basically, Sullivan explains that if you display your emotional involvement behind the launch, consumers are more likely to invest emotionally, too.

Johnson is familiar with this tactic, too. “We mixed in photos from the actual construction of each of the stores, as well as photos from live interviews on-site,” Johnson says.

Anytime you can include a visual, do it. People share video content with friends twice as much as other types of social media posts.

Show your excitement

Whether you're promoting a grand opening, special event, or normal weekday at your retail store, share that excitement with your audience.

Write heartfelt posts about the history of your store, meaningful moments with customers, vendors, or employees, and land interviews through which you can share your excitement with new audiences on other social channels.

Because of the phased grand opening for The Summit at Fritz Farm, Johnson says, “we created a 30-day countdown campaign that highlighted a different tenant that would be opening on day one.”

Johnson and team also secured interview spots for the founders that were featured on other social media accounts with established audiences.

The more people you can get excited with you, the more likely they’ll spread the word and come shop.

Post community-driven content

Being active in your local community is a great way to connect with customers in your area. Even if it’s not philanthropic community involvement, your passion for the thriving economic growth in the local community is contagious.

Johnson talks about how The Summit at Fritz Farm was a major symbol for economic development in Lexington. “[We shared] photos from retailers with a short story about their brand and why Lex,” she says.

Engage local influencers

Influencer marketing is another great tactic to get your brand in front of new audiences. “[We] worked with bloggers to promote various brands throughout the campaign,” Johnson says of her experience. “We also invited those bloggers to a VIP brunch on the opening day and had them post live stories while exploring.”

Engaging local influencers—much like getting publicity from local publications—gets the word out on social media to new audiences. Those audiences are more likely to trust the influencers they already follow and engage with than a brand-new store that hasn’t yet opened.

Create fun, engaging posts

Not everything has to be promotional. Social media posts that are just for fun can inspire engagement, relationships, and positive sentiment towards your brand.

Sullivan recommends posts with fun facts or games like fill-in-the-blank activities. Other creative social post ideas could include challenges to your audience to caption a photo, trivia, or games where followers have to guess what’s in the picture.

Buzz-building social media tactics

Create a Facebook event

One mistake Sullivan says she sees is retailers who neglect to use Facebook events for special openings or events.

“People get notifications and reminders,” she says. But it’s not just for increasing attendance; it’s also helpful for you. “Facebook events give you more direct numbers and insights, and you can calculate an attendance rate.”

Denver-based Trill Evolutions had a grand opening event, and they used Facebook events to spread the word.

They took it up a notch, though, and asked for customer information in exchange for additional discounts. Now they have information to send retargeted social ads, text messages, and emails to their audience in the future.

Giveaways and contests

Giveaways and contests provide another way to link the digital engagement of social media and the physical engagement of your brick-and-mortar store.

Sullivan and Two Roosters hosted a sidewalk chalk art contest for free ice cream. This not only created some fun engagement on their social channels and provided plenty of eye-catching content to post; it also enticed their followers to visit their storefront.

Winner of the best sidewalk chalk from @sparkconner. It was meant for us. Kickin' and lickin' until 5 today!

A post shared by Two Roosters 🍦 Ice Cream (@tworoosters) on

Giveaways and contests are always great ideas to generate excitement and make people want to follow you.

Use hashtags

Why use hashtags? "A hashtag immediately expands the reach of your tweet beyond just those who follow you, to reach anyone interested in that hashtag phrase or keyword," according to Buffer.

Create a branded hashtag to promote your store or event, and tap into local, trending hashtags to spread the word. Using a branded hashtag can help you build buzz and recognition around your brand and help you track your efforts (more on that later). 

Using existing hashtags can help you jump in on conversations that are already happening. Don’t use too many, though. More than two, and engagement could significantly drop.

Paid social advertising

After you’ve created and populated your social media pages with organic content, run paid ads. “This helps you get in front of the right audience,” Sullivan says. With social ads, you can choose who you want to serve the ad to, and this includes geographic parameters (especially helpful for grand opening events).

Hamm has firsthand experience with how much paid social advertising can amplify your efforts. He was able to reach nearly 7,500 people with a single paid boosted post—for just $34.02.

Other paid social ideas include Snapchat filters. “This is especially good for customers who need something to do in line,” Sullivan says.

Interested in launching ads for your retail store?

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Engage with your followers

A major part of social media marketing involves community management. Remember, social media isn’t a one-way conversation. Brands need to interact with their followers, hear their feedback, and answer their questions.

Measuring your social media marketing

Every once in a while—monthly or quarterly, per se—it’s important to analyze the impact of your social media marketing efforts. This will help you adjust strategies moving forward and learn insights about your customer base and business.

As we said before, tracking real-life actions taken because of digital initiatives isn’t always the easiest thing to do. But there are some helpful tools that can give you some insight.

Of course, you can calculate the attendance rate from your Facebook event and look at your branded hashtags.

"One reason the branded hashtags are a good idea," Sullivan points out, "is because you can track the use of those hashtags later." This provides direct engagement and reach numbers.

Look at qualitative data as well, such as individual interactions on social media, or customers who have come into your store and referenced the Facebook event or Instagram post about the event.

There are many paid and free social media analytics tools you can use, too:

  • Brand24: This paid tool is great for social listening. You can use it to find out what people are saying in your area, about your industry, about your store and products, and about your event.
  • Awario: This is a more affordable social listening tool that does much the same as Brand24 but with fewer features.
  • Canva: This is a free tool that’s helpful for content creation. Create graphics and collages, add text to images, and make other creative visuals to accompany your posts. Pay for the full version to access additional features.
  • Hootsuite: This tool is a social media post scheduling tool. You can also use it to engage with your audience. It will save you time to schedule social media posts in advance, rather than signing in every time you want to post something. There is both a free and a paid version.
  • Buffer: Much the same as Hootsuite, Buffer is a social media post scheduling tool that’s also available in a free and a paid version.
  • Facebook Pages Manager app: Especially handy for the entrepreneur on-the-go, this app will enable you to manage your Facebook business page from your phone.

Keep social media marketing momentum going

Community management and proactive social media marketing are essential to your retail business. Utilize this channel to build an engaged, interactive audience.

The best social media marketing tactics for retailers generate excitement and brand awareness for years to come. Use social media to stay top-of-mind, promote new products, and gain the trust of new customers.

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