There was a time when just 30 seconds of airtime on television would command a huge audience with millions of viewers receiving the same information, in the same way, simultaneously. If there’s one characteristic of the digital revolution that stands most in contrast to that mass media approach, it’s been how customers now get their information in small, highly local interactions.
No less important when presented on a mobile device or a cell phone, the way large brands and companies can present themselves in a local context has become crucial to maintaining rich and meaningful relationships with their customers. It’s also why Barnes & Noble College places such importance on hyper-local messaging and why the social media platforms used by many of the company’s bookstores reflect not the corporate brand, but instead, the individual identity of each campus, with posts often managed by the store’s own staff and student booksellers.
At the center of Barnes & Noble College’s online outreach policy, Social Media Specialist Sandra Webb is charged with coordinating the company’s numerous social media channels while also supporting the online activities of 748 highly individual stores nationwide. “I see each store as being its own small business, and we manage our whole approach to social media in that way,” she says.
As an example, Webb explains that while she’ll provide suggestions of what to post, or timely graphics or images for each store to use in their online outreach, she encourages store managers to adapt that content to the voice of their local campuses. It’s a policy that works well at the Texas A&M University Bookstore, where Operations Manager Ashley Fillippa directs the store’s social media feeds. “Typically, I’ll liaise with our general merchandise department for news on any new products, but instead of posting a stock photo, I’ll use one of our employees here to connect it more to our store,” she says.
Using her iPhone 6, she’ll recruit impromptu models and, within fifteen minutes, her Aggie customers can be alerted to new product news across all of the store’s social media accounts. In addition to keeping each store’s postings fresh and lively, Webb points out that different social media channels work in different ways, and across all platforms, there can be discernible shifts in popularity. For example, Facebook, once the gold standard for social media, has seen a shift in popularity among the current student demographic. “I honestly think a lot of students still have Facebook accounts — using it perhaps to interact with brands or ask questions and access customer service,” she says, “but when it comes to what’s holding the most weight now, it’s Instagram, a channel we’re really working to build out.”
Fillippa agrees. “You can get a good idea by how many ‘likes’ your post receives, and based on the younger students here, it seems Facebook’s popularity is fading among that incoming demographic,” she says, adding, “and with any posting, we tend to get 10 to 20 more ‘likes’ on Instagram than on Twitter or Facebook.”
The challenge of reaching students across so many different touch points – mobile, blogs, in-store or through social media, is that a brand can become splintered and lose its consistency, a problem Webb recognizes. “We’re not going to be everywhere. Some of those channels aren’t going to be right for us, which is why it’s so important for us to focus on the places where our students are, and to be on the platforms they’re using.”
Social media has become the new store window through which students learn about products, store news and events, but it also connects them to their campus bookstore. Texas A&M’s Fillippa is working hard on building the store’s base of followers by partnering with not only the university’s student body, but also with parents, alumni and her school’s many associations and clubs. “The school re-posted news on one of our De-Stress store events — something we advertised only through social media — and the take-up was huge,” she points out. “It’s why we really try to partner with everyone on the campus, from the Women’s Chorus to the A&M Rugby Club team, to like or follow us and help us spread our fan base with more views of our products or news,” she says. “It’s our way of connecting with our university, so they understand that this is not just a generic message, this is for Texas A&M, and the way that we reach out is personal to them.”