Giving your shop a digital presence through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can help you to build stronger links with your communities, keep your customers up-to-date with promotions and secure their loyalty.

One of my main priorities this year is to build contacts with the communities my stores sit in, especially for our newer Budgens, and social media has been an invaluable tool for doing this.

I use Facebook and Twitter for both shops, but decided from the outset that I didn’t want to use them as advertising tools.  Instead, they help me build a positive image of the business and to connect and interact with customers and the industry.  Facebook is working really well. I use it as a news feed, to show new displays, products, or when staff have done something well.

So for this week’s Whitstable Oyster Festival, for example, I posted pictures of the sampling pods we set up in-store and the local organic ale on sale.
We want to find out what customers like and whether we are stocking the products they want.

So we don’t major on prices and promotions, but rather put up pictures and snippets of information, then watch how they react.

Posting about single-serve wine glasses last month was really successful, for example, and interestingly showed us that people are coming into the shop based on what they’ve found on their friends’ sites, as well as ours.

We had people coming in asking for them, saying, “I saw this on my friend’s Facebook page”.
That was great because we were then able to walk them around the shop as we took them to find the wine, showing them other things on the way.

I also use Facebook subtly to engage with customers and build a good impression of the business.
So when we got big Jaffa Cakes in-store, I put a picture of them on our page and joked that they were all mine and not for sale.

That got customers and staff commenting and joining in, but also raised awareness of a new product that people thought was only available at the supermarkets.

Social media is also good because I can respond directly to customers. Someone asked whether we sell certain gluten-free lines, for example, so I invited people to bring in packaging of products they wanted us to stock and we got these lines in.

It benefits the community too. I mentioned last month how we used our site to tell parents that their kids could use our shop as a safe house when some dodgy characters were found hanging around the playground nearby.

We’ve had lots of people come in and say they saw what we put on Facebook.

Three other sites I find invaluable are Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

I recently connected with a social media specialist called Raj Kotecha through Instagram and was introduced to an interesting way of doing business: you ask him a question and get a 15-second video back in reply.

I use YouTube for my Londis to create videos – about our wine and curry tasting nights, and even just to show customers silly pranks we’ve played in-store.

We use tags and keywords to get a good search listing and have found this is a good point of contact with customers. And LinkedIn is really useful for business owners. It’s sometimes hard to make contacts in the business community, but this site really helps with that.