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You don't need to do social media. Really, you don't. You can have a wildly successful retail operation without tweeting a single tweet. And frankly, the greatest Facebook page in the history of the Internet won't do you a bit of good if your store is on the wrong corner of the intersection or your competitor's prices are 20 percent lower.
See, don't you feel better already?
However, you do need to have customers and you might find that social media is a potent way to find and keep those customers. It's not hard to do. It can be fun. Social media can be a cheap way to stay top of mind with your customers. But it needs to make sense in your organization and once you commit to it, it needs to become an instinctive part of the way you run your business.
So while you're deciding whether or not to jump in, consider these tips.
They don't care about you nearly as much as you care about you.
Yes, they clicked the "Like" button. But don't read more into it than that. They like you. They don't love you. They don't want to hear from you every 15 minutes. They aren't as interested in your store as they are in their family and friends.
Think of your social media presence this way: when they clicked that Like button they invited you to their party. You need to understand and respect that you aren't the most important thing at their party and behave accordingly.
If you want to sell more, sell less.
Many businesses get all excited about the potential of social media -- but too often for the wrong reasons. They look at every fan or follower as a sales lead.
Again, think of the party. Let's say one of your customers "liked" you. Now you are at her party with her boyfriend, her college roommate, Mini Cooper, Sh*tMyDadSays, Katy Perry, CSI: Miami, her teenaged cousin, Starbucks, a funny co-worker, Macy's and hundreds of others. If you are charming, witty and interesting, you will earn her attention from time to time. And that attention has a good chance of evolving into commerce.
But if you are the boorish salesman intruding himself into every conversation, obnoxiously trying sell something at every turn, you will likely be shown the door, never to be invited back again.
You are not the Huffington Post.
You are a convenience store. You shouldn't weigh in on every event that is trending in pop culture. Your customers have lots of other (better) sources for that stuff. Your contribution to your customers' newsfeeds should reflect the role your store plays in their lives.
So, you should let people know that you're taking 10 cents a gallon off the price of gas today. You should tell them that it's going to be over 95 degrees today and you will have a barrel full of ice-cold drinks right at your front door. You should ask them what candy they think you should put on sale next week.
You should mention that it's supposed to snow tonight and that you'll have windshield washer fluid for 99 cents all day. You should remind people that low tire pressure can reduce their gas mileage by 10 percent and a visit to your air filling station is the best 50 cents they'll spend all year. You should let them know the Powerball jackpot just hit $100 million and hope they don't forgot all the little folks after they hit it big. And so on…
Be what you're supposed to be and they'll appreciate it.
Promotions are a fantastic idea. Or an idiotic one.
Social media is a powerful way to activate your best customers through promotions. Facebook has data showing that your fans spend significantly more money with you than non-fans.
What you don't want to do is turn your best customers into your worst customers by simply churning out constant promotions. If you are predictably discounting your offering every week, you are basically training these people never to pay full price again.
Keep changing things up. Be unpredictable. For instance, have promotions only available to your social media fans. Give a 13-percent off sale to anyone who mentions it's Friday the 13th. Offer a free hat to the first five customers who check in that day. Tell your Facebook fans that anyone who fills up their car can take a candy bar of their choice today.
Posting nothing is better than posting something bad.
Often there is an urge to just "be out there." Throw something up just so that people know you are there. But if you are publishing lame content, bad things start to happen. If your Facebook posts consistently fail to get a decent amount of interaction, Facebook's algorithm slowly stops putting your content into people's newsfeeds. And at that point, you are essentially dead to them -- even if they've "Liked" you.
The same thing happens in any other social context from Twitter to Pinterest to whatever is next. If your content isn't interesting and/or relevant, you will fade away as the people or the robots punish you for being boring.
Don't be boring.
Be loose. Be quirky. Be responsive. Put someone smart, funny and trustworthy in charge and let them have fun. Relax, it's not hard. There is no "right" way. Social media is just another means of communication. Just make it your own so that it matches your store's personality and behavior.
And whatever you do, don't slavishly follow the advice of some guy you've never heard of claiming to be some kind of social media guru.
Alec Beckett is a social media guru at Nail Communications, an advertising agency in Providence, R.I.