An Old-School Approach in Time for Back-to-School and Beyond

When you read about social media marketing, most advice you come across centers around online actions to increase engagement. Well . . . obviously. But believe it or not, even in our digital-obsessed world, we use offline strategies to encourage online engagement.

If it sounds far-fetched, stay with me and I’ll explain how.

While a scan of your Facebook feed at any moment might indicate otherwise, most people use social media to share information about their lives offline (as well as annoyingly repetitive memes and game requests, of course).

So how do you get people to talk up your brand in their posts?

Give Them Something to Talk About

Far too often, brands have the attitude that engagement is the result of a directive: “Look how low our prices are! I command thee, share!” But that’s not going to win the click-to-share war against a cute video of a puppy learning to master stairs.

Engagement is actually the result of creating a conversation offline that begs to be continued online. But how do you inspire that conversation, and ensure that it’s share-worthy?

Scott Ness, Vice President of Insights for global youth research firm TRU, shared the results of a recent experiment:

“We partnered with United Airlines, and rolled out a new perk for their loyalty program – during flights from major outlying hubs to Vegas. With a captive audience, we used the flight attendants to give passengers who signed up for the loyalty program a deck of cards with varying offers printed on them.

What happened was fantastic: The passengers began engaging in conversation with the people sitting next to them, comparing offers (because each deck was slightly different), and sharing this excitement and experience with complete strangers.

It was an automatic conversation starter, prompting engagements over two minutes long with the product – not just because there wasn’t a lot going on during the flight in that moment, but because the program was unique and valuable.”

Well that’s great, but what do you do with an audience that isn’t trapped on a plane for the duration?

Meet Them Where They Are

Again, give them something to talk about – wherever they are. Do a little research, and apply whatever knowledge you take away.

For example, we conducted our own study recently that revealed moms still do the majority of their kids’ back-to-school shopping in-store, and they still look for flyers in the mail. Of the 500 moms we polled, 75% said they would NOT use social media to make back-to-school purchase decisions.

But over 60% said they WOULD use their smartphones to look for mobile coupons while shopping, and they were four times more likely to do this while in-store. Additionally, 89% of moms said that coupons/deals were at least somewhat important in their decision to purchase.

That’s great news! And it means you have a couple options to meet them where they are, and inspire them to branch out:

  • Create mobile coupon offers tied to loyalty program sign-ups
  • Offer a coupon in your print flyers, but promote an increased discount via your mobile app or loyalty program to encourage making the mobile leap
  • Raise the stakes on all offers with special coupons or extra points earned for sharing certain offline behaviors online via your app, or on social media with the proper hashtag, etc.

Let’s expound on that last one, since it’s sort of the most important when it comes to creating engagement. What kinds of offline behaviors are we talking about?

Well, if we continue with the back-to-school theme, since it’s timely, how about encouraging moms to share when they shop with their teens and tweens? Post-Millennials, or “Posts,” spend a lot of time with their parents already, so this isn’t a stretch.

They’re also very tech-savvy, and if they don’t have their own devices, they’re likely to borrow a grown-up’s when they can, or encourage use. Which means marketing to the parent AND the child could work, at least in-store. Put out a call for shopping selfies, for example, and offer rewards for sharing.

The idea is to incentivize behaviors that are likely to happen anyway, so that they become share-worthy as part of consumers’ social media stories.

Your customers may not be trapped on an airplane for hours, but you still want them to feel connected, to engage in the conversation about your brand. With mobile, every shopping experience can be a group experience – a party – even as it’s a personal/solo activity. You just need to create the right atmosphere, and reward the share.

And allow room for trial and error. As Hess advises, “Throw a ton of spaghetti against the fridge, see what sticks, and then double-down on the stuff that works.”