Here, the Work.Life Reading Local member explains why social engagement online is more about conversations than content.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I have spent 32 years in retail, most of that with Waitrose, where as Marketing Manager I launched Waitrose.com in 1999, which was an amazing project. I then ran Toys R Us UK’s online business in early 2000, before running ecommerce for Hamleys in London. I dropped out of corporate life and wanted to set up my own consultancy helping large companies go online. While working on that business plan I got involved in some enterprise projects at my old school, Denefield in Tilehurst. We set up Schooltrip.com for which I was company director for two years. We raised £1million for this business idea, which involved managing school trips using an online workflow system, and helping schools buy better.
How did that lead to Social Retail Group?
That got me a taste for being a company director and the corporate experience of running a business with other people’s money. I set up SocialRetail Group on July 4 2008 – just before the big crash! I wanted to do something I would run from client services. Along with that, I looked at ecommerce and social networking and started a local project called Reading Rock Academy (RRA) in September 2008, which focused on helping people write music.
I was curious about local hashtags and how we could group and talk at the speed of a tweet. I learnt the art of conversation. Rather than marketing and content-driven posts, it was much more about welcoming new followers, and open questions.
Ten years on, that’s the technique I use in SocialRetail today. Don’t obsess about how many followers you’ve got as a vanity metric but do obsess about the quality of followers. Every follower is a blessing.
So you were juggling both businesses?
Yes, for five or six years. But every time I was doing something within RRA, hiring The Hexagon, doing a live music event, using social media to sell 1,000 tickets, I was learning how you can use social to sell. So even though it was not paying the bills, it was giving me a massive learning opportunity.
I knew if a business is focused on a common conversation topic that is the true founding principle of the company, you could align all your staff as ambassadors on social, on the hashtag, you could compete and reduce ad spend.
Conversation v content. What’s the difference?
Conversation is two-way, a thread. Content tends to be broadcast. I believe the world of social is around the art of well-curated communities, connections and conversations. Then augment it within the way you normally communicate. For example, a business may have a face-to-face event but use a hashtag for it so the conversation can continue way after that.
Why is ‘social’ retail so important?
Regardless of Brexit, the British Retail Consortium is predicting 1 million jobs will be displaced by 2020, so how are those businesses going to operate? Many are cutting shops down. What SRG is saying is there is another way – you can keep your shops open but arm your staff with this skill of talking socially so it’s social retailing, not social media. Hang out with your customers, learn at the speed of a tweet, learn before your competitors.
What is your core offering?
Training and analytics. We train your colleagues and analyse good performance and give them a dashboard back so they can reward colleagues. And those training and analytics moments are now focused in an app I have developed over 10 years – Shopfloor Engage. It can be deployed at scale. Staff offering good customer service can get points and rewards and start to augment their salary.
Your work with Hobbycraft is a great example of this. Tell us more.
Hobbycraft Reading’s Twitter went live on June 1 2015. My sales pitch started four years before this as we went through an investigative process together, how can we switch-on the store socially to its local community? Thanks to the ‘rdguk’ hashtag, there was a ready-made community the store could already connect with. We did a pilot and within a few days store staff were effortlessly talking to customers as if they were on the shop floor. We tracked sales over three months before and after and saw a 7% increase in sales.
We rolled it out to all 93 stores in 2016.
We’re now looking at a roadmap of how we socialise the store even more using Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iMessage.
But how is what you offer different to a retailer simply chatting on Twitter?
There are five things we want – three responding moments and two broadcast moments. Responding moments are welcome every new follower (but first diligently look at their profile), respond when someone mentions you, and respond to direct messages.
The broadcast moments are, if there’s a good offer, don’t forget to broadcast that out and if there’s news and updates mention that as well.
In my upcoming book Think Twice, Tweet Once, it’s about the art of conversation – think before you tweet. It’s from a phrase I stole from my late father, a carpenter – measure twice, cut once.
What sort of business would benefit from your expertise?
A retail business that wants to build value and use the store colleague experience to amplify what’s unique about the company.
What are your main challenges?
Not a lot of retailers left as clients! So I’m branching out into other sectors like restaurants, jewellery shops and car dealerships.
Another challenge is marketing directors. They are very much command and control focused and brand lockdown on social. They are not ready to empower people. They might love the idea of doing it but don’t want to spend the time doing it. It’s really tough when you’re a small business selling into a large corporate, often across conflicting departments. I have to keep my pricing honest and my cost base low so I can survive in the lean moments. And that’s why I love it here at Work.Life!
So why Work.Life?
I had an office at Reading Enterprise Centre at Reading University for eight years, because I was employing students, it was great to be on campus. But I wanted something more lively and vibrant, and I wanted to work back in Reading so when this place came up and they said you don’t have to have an office I thought great. It has a community feel, I like the hangout space and that I can use it at the weekend. I also bring my clients in. I did a pitch for EE at Clerkenwell Work.Life and I also brought stationery retailer Ryman down to Reading Work.Life. They came from Crewe and loved this space. I feel as I’m scaling and growing, so is Work.Life. The roof here is also really cool.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
I love the freedom of running my own business. I love the creativity, I love selling and meeting new people. Happiness is not wealth, happiness is the balance between work and life.
How can people get in touch?
Visit our website socialretailgroup.com, or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m particularly interested in talking to anyone who wants to start a retail business. Also, check out my music podcast @RGNewMusic.
If you’re interested in following in the footsteps of SocialRetail and becoming a member at Work.Life Reading then please book a tour now or get in touch at email@example.com