social media how toI’m always surprised at how few retail spaces take advantage of Twitter and Facebook (yes, there are exceptions). The costs are low, the risks are manageable and your customers are already using the platforms.

By engaging customers “where they live,” you can increase the foot traffic to your shop and grow your business.

Here are 5 steps to grow your retail business using Facebook and Twitter.

#1: Set Up Shop

“80 percent of success is just showing up.” – Woody Allen

This may sound obvious, but if you want to engage your customers and prospects on Twitter and Facebook, you have to be there.

On Twitter, this means creating an account for your business, but it also may mean creating an account for you or other people in your company. With few exceptions, people are more likely to follow a person rather than a business, and much more likely to engage with a person rather than a logo. By creating an account for both you and your business, you increase your chances for engaging your audience.

twitter account

Twitter is a place for people, but it's also a place for businesses. Just be engaging!

On Facebook, setting up shop means creating a business page and claiming your Facebook Place (more on that later). You should also have a Facebook profile for yourself that is linked to your page. Even if you’re a wallflower, this is good advice. Facebook provides more tools and functionality for pages that are linked to profiles.


Facebook business pages are great places to engage with your audience.

#2: Build Your Audience

The first step to getting someone to visit your brick-and-mortar store may be to get them to visit your Facebook page or follow you on Twitter.

Once you have your Twitter account and Facebook page set up, you should spend some time finding and building your audience on these platforms. Since many retail shops are “geographically challenged”—you can only do business with people within driving distance—finding local people is an essential first step.

For Twitter, I recommend visiting the advanced search. You can immediately limit your search to tweets within a geographic area, and refine it further by searching for specific terms. A chiropractor might search for “pain” within 15 miles of Austin, TX, a florist might search for “anniversary” within 5 miles of Scarborough, ME, and a restaurant might search for anyone within 10 miles of Huntington, NY, as everyone I know needs to eat to survive.

An advanced search will bring up all the recent tweets that meet your criteria with the handle and avatar of the person who tweeted. From the results page you can follow these people or click on their profile for more information. Since following a person creates a knee-jerk reaction for them to follow you back, a certain percentage of these people will become your followers.

twitter search

A good search for a pet store in Portland, Maine.

On Facebook, businesses don’t “fan” people, but you can still find your audience. Using targeted Facebook ads, leveraging your personal profile and creating a compelling landing page are all ways to build your fan base on Facebook. Mari Smith lists 21 Creative Ways to Increase Your Facebook Fanbase and Ching Ya lists more at 10 Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page Following.

#3: Create Content That Engages Your Audience

Just getting people to fan or follow you won’t bring them into your shop, however. You’ll need to create a steady stream of content to engage them. Whatever your business, you can create content that is compelling and relevant to your audience.

Own a restaurant? Post your lunch special to Facebook and Twitter, complete with a photo. As your fan base grows, you can ask them for suggestions on what they’d like to see as the daily special. Or run a contest on what to name your new sandwich where all the entries must be posted to your business page (which requires them to first fan your page).

facebook menu

When your fans start Liking your menu options, their friends will see it, too.

Run an art supply store? Poll your audience on their favorite medium and why. Watercolors? Oil paint? Sculpture? (It’s amazing how much a simple question can energize a community.)

Are you the curator at the aquarium? Post a photo of a different fish every day with information about the fish and links back to your website where visitors can learn more and buy a day pass.

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie

You can take engagement to the next level by talking to or about a loyal customer.

On Twitter, it’s as simple as using their handle in a tweet. Maybe one of your most loyal customers participated in Tri for a Cure; if so, give her props. Or maybe you see that another customer is trying to sell his old truck on Twitter so you retweet his message. Little gestures go a long way.

twitter callout

If you see someone tweeting from your restaurant, be sure to engage her!

On Facebook, you can tag someone in an update. Since Facebook has a broader audience base, it’s probable that your update will be seen by more people (friends), especially if the person feels compelled to thank you in a comment to your initial post.

It should go without saying, but let me say it anyway: if the main purpose of you tagging everyone is to drive traffic to your page or account, it will show and it will backfire. As Dale Carnegie also said, “Give honest, sincere appreciation.”

#4: Leverage Location-Based Apps

This article isn’t a primer on FourSquare and Gowalla or how you can leverage these location-based apps. There are plenty of great resources out there for that, including How to Drive More Customers to Your Local Business with Social Geotagging and Why Foursquare Drives Business.

However, it’s important to realize that a lot of people are using location-based apps, and often linking them to their Twitter or Facebook accounts. In other words, when they check into a place they’re letting all their friends know where they are, and that’s good for your business.


Who's been visiting your restaurant lately? Gowalla and Foursquare can let you know.

Since so many Foursquarers and Gowallites are on Twitter and Facebook, you can easily engage them once they’ve visited your place of business. You can visit your page on either of these websites to see who’s checked in recently and often find a quick link to their Facebook or Twitter account. From there you can reach out, let them know you saw their check-in, and just wanted to see if their meal, haircut, or ride on the carousel was to their liking, and if there’s anything else you can do.

Use this tactic with discretion, however. Some people may find this intrusive, even when they have opted to check in and share their location with the world.

You should also start investigating Facebook Places. At the time of this writing, there’s no ad platform on the new geo-location offering from Facebook. However, that will inevitably change, giving you the opportunity to offer discounts to shoppers who check in and share their activity with their Facebook network. Retail shops should make sure that they are listed in Facebook places so their customers can check in and share their experiences with others.

You might want to encourage the “check-in” behavior of your patrons by setting up tabletop displays with information on Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places.

#5: Incentivize Your Audience to Visit

Building loyalty and connections with customers is a great long-term success strategy. However, there are plenty of ways to provide incentives for your online audience to make an in-person visit with a more immediate impact:

Create Facebook- or Twitter-only discounts or coupons that people print up and bring in. Make them good for one day only to generate more visits to your page and create a sense of urgency.

twitter discount

Discounts create incentives that drive foot traffic to physical locations.

Last-minute cancellation? Blast out to your audience that you have a sudden opening that afternoon for anyone who needs a massage or mani/pedi.

Slow lunch? Announce a discount for anyone who walks in and mentions Twitter or Facebook while placing his/her order.

Announce a special event at your bar. If you roll out the mechanical bull on Wednesday night, make sure you announce it (maybe with pictures). Or if two bachelorette parties suddenly show up, a large portion of your audience may want to know. And is that Marelisa Gibson who just walked in the front door?

Now it’s your turn: what other ways have you used Twitter or Facebook to drive traffic to your own place of business? Leave your comments in the box below.

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  • Easy steps for good results. I live in a small rural community in western Kentucky and several of our “mom and pop” retail stores and restaurants are using twitter and facebook in just as you described. If you do a search in twitter for “bbq” you will see a ton of bbq restaurants nationwide who are using twitter to draw customers and it is working. Great tips…..

  • This is becoming more and more important for retail shops, restaurants, hotels, and more. If you’re not online and taking advantage of this basically free advertising, you can believe your competitor is. Great article!

  • Mmmm…BBQ! Yes, Twitter & Facebook are inexpensive ways for these small shops to stay in front of, and engage, their audience. Thanks for the comment!

  • Thanks, Susi! I just got back from a social media breakfast here in Maine and the topic was all about mobile marketing, but with an emphasis about how it tied into Twitter and Facebook.

  • Thanks, Susi! I just got back from a social media breakfast here in Maine and the topic was all about mobile marketing, but with an emphasis about how it tied into Twitter and Facebook.

  • NICE job, Rich!! I always love your posts – detailed, easy to understand and uber helpful to lots of folks!! 🙂 You rock. See you soon at #bwe10. 🙂

  • drburt

    Yes, very important to be present on these social networks. Adding Youtube channel and promoting it on Twitter and FB is as important. It porvides a valuable visual input to a potential new costumer. Using headlines on Youtube hannel with rich key words will drive more traffic to your shop. Flickr and Photobickef will do the same thing. However, Youtube has way more traffic and thus will provide more exposure. Linkedin and RSS feed for your blog Are other two additional channels.
    Great Post, I have learned something new today.

  • I really would like to add something but you covered it all up.
    This post is the perfect summary (and more than that) of the zillions of info everyone has been reading about using social media tools for your business in an efficient way.
    Sharing it is a must.

  • Mari,

    Wow, thanks! Now you’re making my head swell past the confines of my disqus avatar box! Looking forward to seeing you, too, at BWE10!

  • You’re absolutely right on using video and YouTube, but there just wasn’t enough room to cover everything. HOWEVER, there are a ton of great posts on using online video here at Social Media Examiner so keep reading! (And thanks!)

  • Thanks, Gabriele, although I’m sure you have something to offer. 🙂 Small retail shops need to be continually testing new methods of marketing and advertising, especially when they’re as inexpensive (or free) as FB & Twitter.

  • Great article. Thanks for putting together a compact summary. I’m with Susi. If you are a business and you’re not on these platforms but your competitors are, you’ll be at a disadvantage. In the end, it’s about social engagement.Love your blog!

  • So many of us identify ourselves by the food, music and books we like, so being able to publicly like something on Facebook is a way of identifying who we are. Retail shops that miss this point are missing opportunities to make deeper connections. I talk a little more about this in a recent TV interview I had the opportunity of being part of:

  • This is great advice! Like Susi & Felice, I also am sure that if you’re not using these methods you’re missing out. It is totally important to be engaging your potential clients. Making a deep connection, as you said Rich, is a powerful way to bring in more, and more QUALITY people into the fold.

  • What a wonderful and useful blog thank you, it’s easy to see why Mari Smith and others recommend you and praise your work.

  • bianca

    great, just what i needed!!!

  • Thanks! Hope it helps you drive more foot traffic to your shop.

  • We use Aweber and we have enabled the option to post our weekly newsletter as a link on our Facebook and Twitter accounts. That way, for our Facebook and Twitter users, we can expose them to our newsletter. We do not have a physical store so we try and create a strong virtual connection with our customers.

  • KatHudson

    I got some really great insights as per usual – really looking forward to the summit!

  • This is terrific content, Rich…solid, valuable, and implementable. I’ll be sharing it with our small town chamber of commerce members as well as my clients. Great job!

  • We also syndicate our content–two blogs and an email newsletter–to our Facebook page and Twitter accounts, but we also make sure we’re putting up fresh content that’s just for these audiences as well. (You may be doing the same.) If you’re only using a platform to repurpose other content you’ll struggle to build an engaged community.

  • Thanks…sometimes it helps to get a whole community or chamber involved to keep each other at it!

  • Great article! as always very informative and helpful. Will recommend it to others via my blog.

  • Thanks for the kudos

  • Thanks Kat

  • Thanks, Rene!

  • Great Great Great! Our small business and technology development center has a lot of small retailers and hospitality businesses wanting to learn more about how social media can help this “primer” for our retailers is just what I needed. Thanks will post this to our Facebook page and share!

  • Oceangirlcollection

    Thanks for the great article ,nice info. I have set up specific sale no where else to be accessed except on my oceangirlcollection fan site, I then post it on twitter and face book. each time I do that I get about more fans.

  • shopchantal

    So excited to be a part of such a great article. I learned some great things to help me even more. Love working the peeps at Flyte. So. Smart.

  • Hi, my name is María and I live in Mexico. I loved your article it was useful for me. I´m a writer and have written seven books about the family, raising kids, new families, etc. My question is if it´s possible to sell ideas about this issues that you can find in my books, or selling books in Facebook or twitter as easy as selling food, paints, or any other thing.By the way, your translator from english to spanish is a very bad one, if you need a translator don´t hesitate to contact me I will love working with you and your team.Hoping to hear from you soonMaría

  • Great, and don’t forget tools like Gowalla, Foursquare & Facebook Places for physical spaces.

  • Aw, you’re so sweet! You do a great job using Facebook and Twitter, which is why I featured you in the article. On top of that, you also earned a spot in my Advanced Blogging presentation at the upcoming Social Media FTW conference!

  • Maria, will have to take your word on the translator. I feel that Twitter, Facebook and especially a blog would help you, but you’ll need to adopt these tools for your own marketing needs, which are definitely different from marketing a space to increase foot traffic.

    Good luck!

  • I really like those last few suggestions. I can see them working instantly. I’m not in that line of business but if I were I’d be quoting you.

  • I ran a retail business at a time when facebook was not as popular. What most retailers don’t realize is that retailers form an integral part of the community. People don’t just go to retail stores to shop, people also visit retail stores to feel good about themselves.

    This means they may socialize with the sales people around, customers and everybody else. Now, it’s all the more important for retailers to use social media (facebook and a blog) to engage their customers and interact with each other.

    Every day, retailers should write day-to-day incidents, special offers and fun stuff to engage with their customers. If you are the owner, you better get visible. Customers love interacting with the owner rather that just the admin or a logo.

  • There are many things one can do to use twitter or facebook to encourage customers to your business. These 5 steps are a very good way to start off, since they are relatively easy to follow and for people to understand. Having a face people can interact with can really help with a business as people react better to a person than they do to a logo.
    It is true though that you have to be careful with how you approach customers. Some might not like the idea that you are messaging them or that you have data they hadn’t realised they had given away. Always a fine line to tread, but that is the risk of any business really.

  • Dragan Mestrovic

    I like this post.

    It describes the traffic and lead generation opportunities through twitter and facebook great.

    My main source of social media traffic and business leads are # 1. Linked, # 2. Twitter and # 3. Facebook.

    But you should not under estimate other great sources like slideshare, google buzz, squidoo and many other great chances to build valuable outposts to bring you traffic and clients.

  • Hey Maria – Our translator is driven by Google, so there you have it…

  • I am in the process of launching a company Twisplays which allows merchants and venues to leverage their social network participation by displaying their Twitter streams on simple inexpensive one-line LED signs. More and more patrons/customers will become aware of the merchant’s Twitter stream and “take the merchant home with them” on their cell phone.
    Merchants can advertise last minute deals, engage customers and drive sales to increase business.

  • Great points, Vinil! We all tend to frequent the shops where our favorite people work…Facebook and Twitter are just ways of expanding that reach.

  • Absolutely; there are plenty of tools out there that merchants can use.

  • Sounds like a great idea, Joshua!

  • Anelia Filipova

    Hey, I’m having a problem viewing your site in my browser. Could you please check this. My browser is Opera 7 btw.

  • Yep, facebook and twitter help you stay in touch with thousands of people with little time and effort.

  • Stuart Watson

    Great post and I see nothing but opportunity here for retailers, especially when combined with mobile (which both Facebook and Twitter support very well of course).

    One thing I think you’ve missed is simply letting the customers who walk into your store everyday know about your presence on Twitter or Facebook. You should ideally have some sort of signage asking people to connect on these social networks and definitely mention it when talking to the customers at the check-out.

  • I love your article! Thanks.

    I’ve noticed that when I’m on my business’ fan page on FB, I can’t #tag people like I can on my personal profile…is there a way to do it that I just don’t know about?

  • Hey awesome article! My whole business is about helping local companies build a following on social media websites. Getting your current customers to visit your social media sites is important. Simply putting your social media info on the back of business cards/handouts and give them to each customer.

  • “Create Content That Engages Your Audience” is the best way to drive online and foot traffic

  • Robert Gilbert

    (A somewhat different retail model) Twitter is great for street vendors who either use multiple locations or have different products to sell each day. They can inform their customers of what they have and where to get them.

  • Donna Foerst

    The article showed how important it is to be present in the social media network because if your business is not involved your competitor will be.

    The 5 steps to grow your retail business using Facebook and Twitter were explained very well in the article. You did a great job explaining them.

    I will be sharing this article with a friend who should put her business at least on Facebook to get more business.

    Have you looked how it would benefit it a local company implements putting the “Like” button on their websites? Do you think this would be beneficial to them?

    Donna Foerst

  • Brilliant stuff, great layout and easy to understand information, thanks for sharing.

  • Rich,

    Thank you for a great article on the integration of several social media platforms! It’s pretty exciting to think of the countless possibilities that these social network platforms can be leveraged to raise awareness for your business and ultimately drive traffic! I really appreciate your point about creating incentives for your customers, I think mastering this tool is where you can really see your customers promoting your brand to their groups, and that is powerful!

    Tyrell Mara

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  • Elizabeth York

    These are some really great tips on how to leverage social media as a retailer. For more tips and social media marketing industry information, check out:

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