In an increasingly digital world, having a social media presence is essential for beverage alcohol retailers — particularly for those who want to build a strong e-commerce business. But there’s a big difference between maintaining social media accounts and developing a social media strategy that will drive sales and foot traffic. “Social can be a retailer’s best growth catalyst when used properly,” says Scott Braun, Drizly’s chief marketing officer.

“It’s a shift in mindset, going from ‘I’m going to wait until people walk into my store,’ to ‘I’m going to help people walk into my store,’” adds Mike Provance, the CEO of 3×3, a marketing technology company that works with wine, beer, and spirits retailers. Through a combination of organic social media content, paid advertising, audience targeting, and community engagement, beverage alcohol retailers can develop a social media strategy that delivers a real return on investment.

Set Clear Goals

Retailers should approach social media strategy by setting their desired outcomes first. “Think about the social media objectives you want,” says Provance. “How you would measure the ROI of awareness is a lot different than the ROI of an ad that has a ‘buy now’ button on it.” Whether it’s fan growth, follower engagement, click-through rate to a website, incremental sales on a specific product, or overall profit improvement of the shop, the goals of a social media program will inform the strategy.

Integrate E-Commerce Site with Social Media

If retailers want to use social media to drive online sales, they should work to integrate their e-commerce website or a partner site like Drizly into their social media account. By making those purchasing pathways smoother, consumers are more likely to buy. “The less clicks, the better,” says Aleksandra Trochimiuk, the strategy and creative director at marketing and PR agency Colangelo & Partners. Facebook and Instagram allow business accounts to integrate e-commerce websites hosted on certain platforms — particularly Shopify — so that retailers can simply link to specific products.

Integrating a shop’s e-commerce site directly also allows retailers to track the ROI of specific social media posts. “We utilize unique tracking links that show where our users came from so we can attribute sales directly to certain platforms,” says Mollie Cook, director of marketing for Molly’s Spirits in Denver, who notes that whenever the team posts about a specific product or new offering, they see a spike in that SKU’s sales.

Engage With the Community

Unlike traditional advertising or even promotional newsletters, social media facilitates two-way communication between a retailer and its potential customers. “It’s a direct line of communication with your customers,” says Braun, “but it’s also a tool to better understand who a retailer is reaching and what they respond to.” By better understanding its audience, a retailer can then use this information to decide what to post.

“I always say the best way to see a return on your social media investment is by truly spending time in community management,” says Katie Melchior, a social media and digital strategist and the founder of @FrenchWineTutor. Rather than just posting content, engage with those who like and comment on the shop’s posts, and respond to DMs, direct messages, readily. Retailers should also spend time following and engaging with others key figures in the beverage alcohol social media space, from sommeliers to drinks influencers. 

“It’s great to offer promotions and share the latest and greatest products that just hit the shelves,” says Cook. “But the magic happens when you’re able to build a community online.” 

Diversify Social Media Content

While it might be tempting to constantly promote specific bottles or deals, it’s important to diversify social media content in order to keep customers interested. “If we’re constantly selling, our messages become just another post to scroll past or another email to delete,” says Cook, who has found success with sharing memes and other humorous posts.

“The most sought-after social media content in 2020 is educational,” says Melchior. “Knowledge about the shop and its products is equally as important to consumers.” Rather than posting bottles or empty storefront photos, she suggests creating fun, short content that showcases in-house somms or staff members. Not only does this engage followers by teaching them something new, but it builds brand loyalty by helping followers get to know the people behind the shop.

But don’t get so fixated on strategy that posting on social media becomes overwhelming. What matters most is that a retailer is posting consistently and authentically. “This signals to your audience that you’re alive and well and doing cool things,” says Melchior. Because this can require a big time investment, Melchior recommends that an option stores can consider is working with a social media consultant. Depending on whether an individual or company is used, and the services desired, costs may range from $2,000 to $5,000 per month.

Use Ads to Highlight Your Niche

While organic social media content can drive sales while building brand awareness, voice, and engagement, paid social media ads often convert more directly to sales. “Social ads drive customers towards the purchase funnel more effectively than other digital ads,” says Trochimiuk.

Though Facebook and Instagram both make it easy to “boost” organic social posts, it’s more worthwhile to create a separate, targeted ad (sometimes referred to as a “dark post” because it does not appear in a retailer’s social media feed). “Look at which parts of your business drive the highest value,” says Provance, “and focus the message directly to the people who are likely to buy into that part of the business.” 

For instance, if a store has a strong back-vintage Bordeaux selection or a wide range of Scotch whiskies, run ads that highlight the shop’s specialty and use language that resonates with that specialty’s audience. Even if the specialty represents a small portion of the shop’s business, it is worth highlighting if it drives a higher margin and differentiates the store.

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Get Specific with Ad Targeting

The ability to target specific audiences is the greatest value that social media ads offer over traditional ones. “It’s not like placing an ad in a circular,” says Provance. “Unlike traditional media, social media drops the right ad onto the right desktop or phone,” and to the intended audience. 

Therefore, it’s important to identify the customer targets for each ad and limit the audience only to those targets. The team at 3×3 has found that purchasing behavior is more correlated to behavior and lifestyle than it is to demographics like age or gender, so the company uses psychographics to target the right audiences.

The other advantage of social media ads is that they don’t necessarily require a huge budget. A retailer can start with a less than a few hundred dollars per month and monitor the results of that ad campaign. As the shop develops more specific goals and targets, they can increase that budget. 

Use Geo-Targeting to Reach New Customers

While it’s important to engage with existing customers, retailers have a limited ROI if they cannot expand that customer base. Social media ads allow businesses to use geo-targeting to deliver ads to users in specific locations. 

When John Wolf, the owner of Chicago Lake Liquors in Minneapolis, first partnered with Drizly, he decided to create Facebook ads around that partnership and target them to customers within the store’s delivery radius who like wine, beer, and food. “For the store, Facebook has proven to be the most interactive with my customers,” he says. He spent between $5,000 and $10,000 per month, but saw a return with results that were “tremendous,” measured through engagement rate and click-through rate.

To target new customers, Melchior recommends a “reach” campaign on either Facebook or Instagram. “This will cast a wide net and show your ad to the largest number of potential customers,” she says.

Use Traditional and Creative Tools to Track ROI

Tracking the ROI of a social media strategy can be tricky, depending on the tactics used and the goals desired. For instance, it’s nearly impossible to track how much foot traffic stems from social media ads, and while tracking sales velocity of products that have been promoted through organic social content can point to conversions, it’s not a perfect measure of success. 

However, campaigns that drive traffic to digital storefronts can be measured. “For a digital storefront or website,” says Melchior, “you can run advertisements that drive traffic to your website [through a ‘clicks’ campaign] and you would be able to more accurately track the success of such a campaign.”

Before launching its e-commerce site, sales conversions were “a little bit more difficult to track,” says Cook of Molly’s Spirits, “but the new site has offered incredible insight into the shopping behaviors of our followers-turned-customers and our customers-turned-followers.”

While digital and social media metrics can measure some aspects of a strategy’s ROI, extending a store’s promotions across channels can help too. Both Wolf and Cook have offered discount codes through social media — and made those codes redeemable both in-store and online. When customers have walked in to redeem those codes in person, the tactic has proven to the operators that a shop’s social media followers and its in-store customers are, indeed, one and the same. Such willingness to experiment and engage across channels — online and offline — is a key strategy all retailers can use as they look to grow their customer bases.