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Demystifying Social Media For Retailers

By April 13, 2011No Comments

By Mark Thomas, NSSF Managing Director, Marketing Communications

Over the past 25 years, my life has been dominated by developing and executing marketing plans for national brands or independent and company-owned retail franchisees in various industries. There really haven’t been any significant marketing tools or revelations over the past 30 years. Most retailers probably evaluate and utilize print advertising, direct mail, television spots and point of purchase displays as your primary tools for merchandising your business.

These are still important, but new media is low cost and can be very effective.

As many marketers were, I was skeptical when “new media” arrived. Fads come and go, but could this new animal really make money and help my bottom line? The answer is unequivocally “Yes!” Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have been around for several years now, so “new media” is really a misnomer. These tools should be called “emerging media” because if they are not staples in your marketing efforts, they should be.

For most, a business’ website is, in effect, the face they show the public, and it has taken the place of a printed brochure. The website is immediate, easily changed and extremely cost effective. Due to greater technology and security software, consumers are more comfortable buying online and especially sharing their information. So let’s address some basic questions.

What is it?

If you are unfamiliar with some of these marketing channels, here are the “Cliff Notes” version.

Facebook – a free social network with more than 500 million users that allows people to connect and share information on a multi-media platform. It is the largest of all the social media sites.

– a free social networking and blogging website using short messages called “tweets.” There are over 190 million users every month, and Twitter is the most immediate emerging media tool. You might be surprised that the average age of a user is over 35 years old, so don’t be fooled into thinking this is just for kids.

YouTube – a free video-sharing website on which users can upload, share and view videos. Unregistered users can watch the videos, while registered users are permitted to upload an unlimited number of videos. It is the second most utilized search engine in the world. Visitors watch 2 billion videos a day!

There are many others, but when getting started, focus your efforts on these big three. The real question is, “How can these sites benefit you in making money?” If these sites don’t help you ring the cash register, the rest is simply marketing noise.

How do I use it?

It is very important to remember that these emerging media tools are very specific in their use and different than traditional media. Traditional media is one-way communication while emerging media should always be two-way and sometimes three-way communication. The power of these tools is to develop a relationship between your customers and your business so they trust you to give them the best products at the best price. For example, smart retailers use Facebook postings to tell about events and specials to drive them to their websites. They will send out “tweets” on Twitter to engage prospects ask about their favorite firearms or even favorite places to shoot or hunt. The information gleaned by all who follow can result in more interest and increased traffic on your website or “brick and mortar” location. To maximize this, you can post a YouTube video available from many manufacturers to give customers knowledge and comfort. The information can then be collected to send personal e-mails to customers about products or services you carry for their particular interests. You will also gain feedback on everything from products to your staff’s customer service.


Here are some tips when using emerging media.

  • Engage, Don’t Sell. These tools are different in that the customer must invite you in so it is two-way. Hard-selling techniques rarely work with these tools. The intent is to pique interest and develop a long-term customer.
  • Analyze and maximize each channel – Tweets can only be 140 characters, so they are to engage and direct prospects to other places. Facebook is interactive and can be used in several different ways .YouTube is primarily video messages.
  • Consistent and Constant – As with any marketing, use these tools constantly and your message must be consistent.

Using these tools effectively will extend and enhance your customer’s lifetime value. They also, by their very nature, attract younger customers. Explore and utilize these cost-effective marketing tools. They will give you the edge in your market.

Join the discussion No Comments

  • Dan Hall says:

    Great article and much needed in the gun industry. As the traditional firearm consumer gets older, the new generation of gun owners communicate, share, and buy predominately through online channels particularly social media. It is very important for the industry to recognize this and engage.

    Dan Hall

    • markethomas says:

      Thanks Dan….age is a huge concern for recruitment and retention…and you would really be surprised at the average ages for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube………