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Selling Is Social

Social media offers industry retailers a cost-effective way to win over new customers, build loyalty from clients, and market product diversity. Photos and videos that are posted online are ideal for showcasing gifts, apparel, and signage to spread the word that your business offers so much more than your target audience realizes.

Selling Is Social

Could Facebook and Instagram be the Free Gift That Your Marketing Plan has Been Waiting For?

Social media offers industry retailers a cost-effective way to win over new customers, build loyalty from clients, and market product diversity. Photos and videos that are posted online are ideal for showcasing gifts, apparel, and signage to spread the word that your business offers so much more than your target audience realizes.

Managing social media does not have to be a chore, as evidenced by Tacoma Trophy and K2 Awards & Apparel. These Awards and Personalization Association member companies are very different retail operations with diverse approaches to creating and posting content and measuring the return on their investment. 

Even as they seek to reach dissimilar audiences, both agree that social media is an important part of their marketing efforts.  

For today’s small business, social media is a double-edged sword. It is an affordable way to reach a wide audience and build brand recognition—for a company that has crafted the right online marketing strategy. 

Effective social media use also gives personalization companies real-time insight into what other media-savvy industry businesses are up to. This enables suppliers to see how retailers use their products and those of their competitors, and retailers can scout out potential suppliers to learn much more than they could from an online product catalog.

On the flip side, social media can damage profitability when negative reviews are prominent or you make a social media misstep, such as sharing a joke you didn’t realize is offensive or misusing a hashtag regarding a sensitive topic. 

A buttoned-up, all-business approach to social media reduces risk but doesn’t enable you to capitalize on social media’s ability to humanize businesses. Getting a little personal on social media can make customers view your brand with the fondness they usually reserve for people. 

With the right social media usage, a corporation—not an individual employee or ad—can be viewed as funny, clever, hip, flexible, knowledgeable, or caring, all before a customer has had any contact with an employee.

Social media as we know it today started in the late 1990s, but it didn’t explode until Facebook. Just like Google relegated Altavista and Dogpile to the search-engine graveyard, Facebook made us forget all about MySpace.

Facebook now reports more than 2 billion active users worldwide, the most of any social media platform. As of September 2016, more than 60 million businesses had Facebook pages. 

Count many Awards and Personalization Association members among them. Our 2016 member survey revealed the nearly half of our members consider social media one of the top three ways they promote their businesses. 

Facebook was the most popular platform, with 67% of respondents using it to promote their businesses. LinkedIn and Google Plus were distant second- and third-place finishers, respectively, followed even more distantly by Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat. 

About a third of our member business respondents don’t use social media, compared to about 24% of American small businesses that have no social media presence. Not being on social media at all is a gamble, especially as more shoppers research companies online before visiting the brick-and-mortar location to make a purchase. 

With millions of businesses vying for social media users’ attention, how do personalization retailers use it to sell? 

Judi Brown, Tacoma Trophy, Lakewood, WA

“We owe some of our success to the fact that we’re quite active on social media, where many of our local competitors are not,” said Judi Brown, who operates Tacoma Trophy with her husband, DJ.

“The ease in posting and sharing and liking—and the fact that it costs nothing but a little time—is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned,” she said. 

The small business uses the World Wide Web to seek customers from its own corner of the world. “Our goal with all of our marketing is to get people into our store,” she said. 

To that end, she posts social media updates several times a week. Owning that process lets her control and organize the store’s marketing efforts, both on- and offline. 

Retailers can split the task of social media posting between employees, she said, “but you want to make sure there is some coordination about what’s being posted and when.”

One way for employees to get in on the action is to share Tacoma Trophy’s content on their personal accounts.

“We encourage our team to share Tacoma Trophy posts on social media. Some do, some don’t,” she said. 

Sharing the content with their friends and followers could lead to a bonus if one of these contacts makes a purchase. “We offer our team members commissions on sales to new customers they introduce to our store,” Brown said.

Brown began using LinkedIn regularly in 2007 and started her personal Facebook account in 2009. 

“Around 2010-2011, I started seeing the value of Facebook for our business,” she said. 

Since then, a lot has changed, but Facebook is still a staple.

“I use Facebook regularly,” Brown said. “I created an Instagram account recently, but haven’t utilized it much. I’ve had a Google Plus account for several years; I don’t use it too often, but I do believe posting there helps with Internet exposure. I also have a Tacoma Trophy Twitter account that I use a few times a month and a Tacoma Trophy LinkedIn page that I post to a few times a month. We also have a presence on Yelp and have had some positive reviews from customers there.”

“Truly, we have followers that range in age from early teens to senior citizens and from all walks of life so I don’t target messages to any specific demographic,” Brown said. “I try to be mindful to post items that will not be offensive to anyone. I stay away from religion and politics.”

Anything that might promote the store is fair game. “I also ‘like’ a lot of posts as my business as opposed to just liking as me personally,” Brown said. “I feel the name recognition sticks the more people see it.”

Content she creates to promote Tacoma Trophy on social media—sometimes cross posting—includes: 

  • Products: “With the customers’ permission, I often share photos of completed customer orders, and I like showing photos of new products we have on display in our store,” Brown said. “We use Facebook specifically as an extension of our website. When customers call our store and ask if we offer a certain item we’re often asked if they can see everything on the website. We tell them to check out our Facebook page instead because it’s updated much more frequently.”
  • Staff: “I share photos of our team at work as I want our customers to be familiar with the faces they will see at our store.” During busy season, Brown posted a photo of a staffer who’d fallen asleep while sitting upright in a chair, with the caption: “The picture says it all—one of our team members during the last week of what was our busiest month ever.”
  • Events: “When customers post photos of awards being presented and I know they are awards we produced, I like and often share their posts,” Brown said. “If we participate in events, I share photos of our displays or of action from the events. We have sponsored various teams, car shows, golf tournaments, and community events and we always try to cross-promote those teams and/or events on our page.
  • Customer feedback: “If customers e-mail us with good feedback on an order I will sometimes use the customers’ quotes in my Facebook or LinkedIn posts,” Brown said.

Part of the lure of social media for businesses is that the medium is, for the most part, free to use. You also can pay to advertise on social media platforms, targeting the types of users you want to see your ad. 

Tacoma Trophy tried a “small budget campaign earlier this year. We generated one or two more ‘likes’ but not enough to make me want to invest any more into it,” Brown said. 

For now, her investment remains the time she spends planning, generating, and posting content and interacting with other users. Brown’s time is valuable, but it can be difficult to find an accurate way to assess the return on the time you invested in a specific marketing effort.

“We ask all first-time customers to our store how they learned about us,” Brown said. “Most often, customers will say, ‘online,’ in response to that question. We don’t track social media specifically.”

However, Tacoma Trophy has earned new clients and product inquiries through social media. “This most often occurs when a current customer shares something about a product they purchased from us, and people who follow them start inquiring about it,” Brown said. “We also get random inquiries from people who find us through various online searches.”

A post of Father’s Day gift ideas on Tacoma Trophy’s Facebook page has an exchange below it in which a Facebook user asks Brown for the price of one of the featured items. Had she not posted it, what are the chances that the same customer would have happened to come into the shop and that the Browns would have happened to have that specific product front and center, prompting the same inquiry? 

Unlike a phone call, when an inquiry comes in through Tacoma Trophy’s social media accounts, Brown can effortlessly refer back to the details later for follow-up: “When customers message us through our Facebook page or LinkedIn, we have easy access to that history and those online conversations.”

When social media becomes part of your work, who would want to maintain their personal accounts as well? Smart retailers should. 

“Certainly, I have Facebook friends on my personal account who are not yet customers of Tacoma Trophy,” she said, “but I have had many friends become customers.”

Tacoma Trophy’s social media accounts promote the business and products without being overly salesy. This gallery from a community event is likely to catch the attention of attendees, organizers, and other potential customers, all of whom will see great examples of the shop’s work.

Charlie Moss, K2 Awards & Apparel, Richmond, VA

“Ever since Facebook became popular,” Charlie Moss knew he needed to market K2 Awards & Apparel on social media. 
“We knew it would be important, but we had no idea in what way social media would impact our business,” said Moss, who is president of K2, an online retailer. 

New customers are only the tip of the iceberg, since social media also enables K2 Awards & Apparel to increase brand awareness, appeal to target markets, and build trust—the “know, like, trust” trifecta. 

Today, K2 Awards & Apparel posts creative original content to accounts with a robust backlog to further engage friends and followers on a variety of social media platforms.

“Facebook and Instagram are the most important” for K2, Moss said. “We dabble in Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus.”                 
An employees posts “a few times a week,” but it took a little trial and error for the business to determine the best way to assign those duties. 

“We have tried many different ways, including a group approach and staff members who are 100% focused on social media,” Moss said. “We now have a single, dedicated staff member who spends less than half her time on social media.”

Their social media efforts focus on Facebook and use “varied content including photos that customers send to us, employee profiles, new products, and current promotions.”            

The content is crafted to optimize each platform’s strengths and target its audience with the right products.    

“The social media demographic varies a bit by medium, with Facebook being the most similar to our award customer base, and Instagram skewing a bit younger and more toward our apparel business,” Moss explained.

K2 evolves as platforms and audiences change. For instance, K2 has removed its Tumblr account, and the company doesn’t actively promote its YouTube channel despite a robust selection of videos (including a parody of the intro to “The Office” and a comparison of screenprinting technology with 2,390 views).

With “less than 1%” of Moss’ business coming “directly from social media,” that metric isn’t the best for determining the success of the company’s content. Instead, K2 Awards & Apparel tracks engagement “through shares, likes, and comments.”

K2’s strategies work. The company’s Facebook page has more than 19,000 likes and nearly as many followers, and Yelpers give K2 a perfect 5-star rating. Pair that with an outstanding website— was named Best Retailer Website at this year’s International Awards & Personalization Expo in Las Vegas—and you’ve created an online presence that inspires confidence. 

Achieving those metrics involves content creation and great service rather than a direct expenditure on ads or discounts. K2 Awards & Apparel has seen limited success from paid advertising on Facebook or incentives for customers who promote the company on social media. 

With only “a small number” of new clients coming from social media, why is it such a high priority? The return on Moss’s investment is bigger than a few orders specifically attributable to social media.

“It affects our business in many indirect ways,” Moss said. “For instance, our customers promote us on their social media pages, which obviously helps with awareness.  Our customers also communicate with us on social media and provide valuable feedback—mostly positive, I am happy to say, but also identifying areas in which we can improve.”

Counter intuitively, a few online complaints can benefit a company.

“However difficult it can be to read negative reviews, we never filter out bad reviews,” Moss said. “We need our customers to trust us, and full transparency is a big driver of earning that trust.”

4 Questions for an expert

Matthew Wilkens, social media product manager

Matthew Wilkens knows more than your average business person about the best ways for businesses to leverage social media. Wilkens is a product manager, social media, with G/O Digital ( From search to social, and everything in between, G/O Digital’s marketing experts create effective digital marketing campaigns based on your business’s individual needs.

1. What should small business retailers focus on as they start building a brand through social media?
The first core basic: Focus on a strategy that will align with your business goals. Simply “being on social media” is not enough anymore, unless you strategically pick your platforms and content that will build relationships but also convert. 

Social media is a unique marketing avenue because it comprises owned, earned, and paid media. You own your channels and branded content, you earn relationships through community management, and you help to convert those nurtured relationships through paid media.

2. Are there basic rules for social marketing? 
First rule of social marketing: It is free to use but not free to do. This ties back into having a strategy and setting yourself up for success by aligning your social goals with your business goals.

Don’t have a “sell, sell, sell” mentality about posting content. If your content is not specifically designed for each platform with meaning and purpose, then do not post at all. I like to make sure all clients have a 90/10 approach when it comes to content: 90% branded, engaging content and 10% selling. Use paid media to help grow and sell.

3. Is there value to paid tools for social media?
There are several paid tools that will allow you to consolidate posting and analytics tracking, and it is important to do your research to find the most time-efficient and cost-effective one.

Most small business retailers do not have the time to focus on social or other digital marketing ventures because their job is to focus on their businesses. This can often trap them into purchasing the wrong tools or partnering with a business or service that does not fully understand their business goals and cannot appropriately align strategy.

Creating a strategy gives a business a clear view of their platforms, the desired analytics they are looking for, and what paid tools are available to help them meet their goals.

4. Beyond metrics, how can business owners measure their social media success? 
Beyond metrics, I generally like to emphasize sentiment as a great gauge on your success with engaging your target market online. If you are converting them with your combined earned, owned, and paid media strategies, you should be able to grow your business.

Awards and Personalization Association

The Awards and Personalization Association is the organization for retailers and suppliers of personalized and customized items. By providing education, meetings, and access to a vibrant network of professionals, the Awards and Personalization Association is the one place to ensure the growth of your talent, your business, and your professional community.

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