Socials can bring people back to places

From Friday 24 July UK shoppers will be required to wear face masks in stores and shopping centres in a move by the government to safely drive footfall back to retail destinations. As businesses across the country try to come to terms with how this will impact on their performance, we consulted our social media engagement and insights partners at Maybe* (@MaybeTech) to better understand the important role that social channels can play in transforming and informing how the high street opens for business in a safe and significant way.

Maybe*’s latest report shows that while 88% of surveyed people will wear a face covering while shopping, only 14% believe that wearing a face covering is the most important safety measure being implemented in stores. Ensuring and, importantly, demonstrating that social distancing and hygiene measures are continually being policed by store staff therefore needs to remain a priority in social media messaging. Indeed, the research revealed that 51% of people will avoid shopping if they see social distancing ignored.

The average age of shoppers is another key consideration for retail businesses. Maybe*’s survey revealed that the 65+ age bracket are the most nervous to return to shops (34%), while the 46-55 are the least nervous (27.3%) and, at the extreme end of the spectrum, 19-25-year olds are the most excited to shop (35%). On top of this, retailers – especially those in town centres – must take into consideration that more people are now regularly working from home, and that the vast majority who are going to be wearing face masks will be happy to do so. The  task at hand for local retailers is to ensure social media messaging is not only targeted specifically at core age demographics, but also contains a perfect balance of health and safety measures, and more positive promotional messaging targeted at those who are ready and raring to shop.

In terms of tactics, we’re seeing that the most successful retail businesses during this difficult period are using Instagram stories to humanise their brand, driving people back to stores, as well as generating sales online. Instagram stories can give customers both comfort and confidence to return to the high street and shopping centres, especially when the content itself clearly demonstrates adherence to and effective policing of social distancing protocols. And it’s not just retailers that are using socials to restore confidence among shoppers. Maybe* points out that local councils are among some of the best performing posts of late as they look to bring people back to places and, in the case of Wigan Council, stay ahead of the rumour mill. As reports circled that Wigan may be at risk of entering a second lockdown, the council swiftly asked their residents to share their official social media post, emphasising the danger of circulating misleading and factually incorrect information. With over 1,000 comments, 2,000 reactions, and 7,000 shares, the post successfully set the record straight, reminding us of the power of engagement with your social media community to navigate challenging times; even something as simple as a request to share.

It should come as no surprise that social media will have a crucial role to play in retail in the coming weeks and months, given that consumers, on average, spend over three hours on social media channels per day. Yet the big picture says otherwise. Pre-Covid-19 only 43% of independent businesses were active on social media, which has dropped to just 5% in some local towns post-Covid-19. Among national businesses, the percentage has dropped from 68% to 26%. For some time now, the reality has been that social media can no longer be considered an after-thought and, in the current circumstances, the need for businesses to make social media a central function in their communications has accelerated. Now more than ever, businesses need to recognise that social is where they will find customers at their ease, creating an opportunity to engage and reassure them on a more personal level. In a post-Covid-19 consumer society, this may well be what makes the difference.

Andrew Smith, Senior Account Executive, Innesco

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