Socially Savvy

Seven tips on how pet specialty retailers can build savvy social media strategies.


It seems that almost daily, a new blog post gets pushed out by some marketing or social media “expert” talking about Facebook “killing organic reach” or it being “time to abandon Facebook.” Ironically, I see those blog posts on my own Facebook news feed—not because I have liked the Facebook pages that originally posted the content, but because my Facebook friends have shared or commented on the post and amplified its reach.

Facebook has made changes. Change is inevitable. Innovation and growth are impossible without change. And sometimes change can be uncomfortable. But in response to all the negative blog posts and commentators, maybe a better headline would be: “Facebook forces marketers to think smarter, produce better quality content, and deliver more valuable and meaningful user experiences.”

For brands and marketers that get it and approach social media in the right way, there is unprecedented opportunity to engage with consumers and produce meaningful outcomes through social media—more so now than ever before.

For pet brands, the opportunity is especially great. We see it firsthand in the clients we work with. There’s the emotional bond people have with their pets, pet owners’ willingness to spend money on their pets and the unparalleled opportunity for brands to leverage user-generated content.

I’m excited to be speaking on this very subject during the Global Pet Expo Academy.
As a primer, here are seven basic, but important tips for building more effective social strategies. You’ll notice that these best practices aren’t pet-industry specific, but rather, they are applicable to all brands looking to build advocacy in the social space.

1. Likes and comments don’t pay the bills and should not be primary goals.
Social media goals should align with and support overall company goals and marketing objectives. Seeing growth and interaction is great, but it’s more meaningful to focus on the depth and quality of engagement; the ability to foster advocacy and support customer service; a community that builds brand affinity, earns trust and supports preference; and ultimately, the ability to drive trial and sales.

2. It’s not all about you. Remember the “social” in social media.
It seems obvious, but even now, many brands tackle social media with a traditional marketing approach and then wonder why engagement is so low. Think first about the users you want to reach, and then design a content strategy that delivers value to those users while still having context to your brand. Identify the intersection between brand wants and user desires. Don’t simply post content. Create experiences and build community around a common theme that unites users around your brand values. Let the connection come naturally and build advocacy authentically. Tell compelling stories. Leverage user-generated content.

3. Don’t underestimate the importance of effective community management.

A community manager is the front-line representation of your brand. They have the ability to change perceptions about your brand. Don’t treat community management as a “second job” or something to be assigned to the intern. You invest in building your brand reputation, so invest in a good community manager who can not only protect that brand reputation, but elevate it by using social media to scale one-on-one relationships. Empower the community manager to speak with an authentic voice, respond to users in a timely way and work with an agile approach. Like it or not, if you’re in the social space, you need to be ready and willing to “work at the speed of social.”

4. Use data.
Facebook and Twitter both include analytic dashboards that present data in a very easy-to-understand way. Take advantage of that data. Experiment with what you post and when you post. Use analytics to understand what works, and refine and revise your strategy on an ongoing basis. Let the community tell you which direction to go. If you listen and give them more of what they want, they’ll respond in a positive way.

5. Be human.

Behind every Facebook like or Twitter follower is an individual human being. Treat them as humans, speak like a human and tap into emotional connections. Be kind. Never ignore someone who has taken time to invest in your brand. Reward and empower advocacy. Would you turn your back on a customer in a retail store, or ignore their question or concern. No? Then don’t do that online.

6. Invest in paid social media.
Paid social media is incredibly cost-effective, and when combined with a strong organic foundation, it provides a valuable opportunity to strategically outsmart your competition when you can’t outspend them. Paid social media, such as Facebook promoted posts, can be targeted precisely based on location, behaviors, interests and other factors. You can use this targeting to deliver valuable content or offers to only the most relevant audience. You can deploy promotion rapidly, track results in real-time and adapt campaigns as you go, to optimize results. It’s cost effective and it works. Of course, it’s how you use the tools that ultimately dictates the outcome.

7. Don’t let corporate culture get in the way.
Even if you have a corporate culture that doesn’t feel comfortable with the type of public interaction and accountability that social media requires, it’s absolutely possible to create a positive process and framework that allows you to manage risks while embracing the opportunity. Don’t let fear get in the way of progress. The customer won’t wait for you—and ultimately, if you aren’t connecting with your customers where your customers are spending their time, then by default you become less relevant to those customers, and that’s never a good place to be.

Ben Smith serves as Director of Social and Emerging Media for full service marketing agency, Callahan Creek, providing clients with social media strategy and guides community management and tactical executions handled by both agency staff and clients. In 2010, Ben also started his own social media firm, Social: IRL. Contact Smith at or @benasmith.

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