There are more than half a million new small businesses every year. One way to make an impression when you first open is with a grand opening event.
But for a brand-new retailer without an existing customer base, spreading the word and generating excitement for the event poses a challenge.
Social media is one way to build buzz and attract customers to your new store. Almost all (91%) retailers use at least two social media channels, so that means there’s a lot of noise — and clutter — users have to cut through.
With a few creative content ideas, strategic paid targeting, and tools to help you track your efforts, social media can be a huge asset to building buzz for your grand opening. Here’s how you can tackle your opening event from a social perspective.
Getting Started With Social: 7 Challenges Retailers Face
No existing audience
If you’re new to the scene, you don’t have the luxury of an already-existing audience. Instead, you’re starting from scratch.
Britni Johnson faced the challenge firsthand, when she worked with The Summit at Fritz Farm, an open-air retail mecca in Lexington, Kentucky, to promote their grand opening. Most of the brands were making their debut to the area, so local consumers didn’t recognize or know the retailers.
“Most of the community had no idea who [our] brands were,” she says.
We had a large task on our hands with generating excitement and really educating the city of Lexington on why they should be excited.
No ideas for content
Having no built-in audience is just one challenge for retailers attempting to build buzz about their grand opening — a lack of content poses yet another challenge.
“We didn’t have any pictures of the store,” Sullivan says. They got creative and took pictures of the space, the product, ice cream out in the wild, and Implemented other creative ideas (like using staged shots to gain attention on social channels).
Stop staring. Well maybe a little longer, it is @tworoosters #icecream for crying out loud. . . . #icecream #shoplocalraleigh #squarespace #instaicecream #ihaveathingforwalls #dailyfoodfeed #wraloutandabout #fromwhereistand #eeeeeats #delish #thatsdarling #trifoodies #goodeats #lifeandthyme #foodie #f52grams #oakcityeats #foodgasm #ncfoodfinds #rslove #bts #behindthescenes #inthestudio
No time to dedicate to the social media
Opening a new store is busy for even the most seasoned retail entrepreneur. With so many loose ends to tie, moving parts to keep track of, and deadlines to hit, social media can easily fall to the bottom of your priority list. After all, what’s more important: sending out a tweet about the products you’re excited to reveal, or making sure the electric is turned on when you open?
Additionally, social media may not be every retailer’s area of expertise. Therefore, it could take you longer to conquer the learning curve and to execute social media promotion.
Ever-changing opening date
As it often happens with many new businesses, the opening date sometimes tends to be a targeted open date, one that changes frequently, sometimes unexpectedly. This can make it extremely challenging to promote the event, because if you don’t know a concrete date, how can people plan to attend?
That was the scenario for Two Roosters. By the time they finalized their launch date, “we had less than a week,” Sullivan recalls. Luckily for them, the opening date coincided with National Ice Cream Day, but not every retailer is as lucky.
For Johnson, The Summit at Fritz Farm’s grand opening took a different approach. “The center’s grand opening was a little different than most,” she says. “It didn’t all open at once — instead, the center has celebrated a rolling opening since April, and retailers have continued to introduce themselves to the community throughout the summer.”
A rolling opening poses a whole new list of challenges, as you can’t drive customers to a single event, and you run the risk of the buzz fizzling out over time.
Sweet swag: Forgetting to offer incentivizes for people to come
One mistake retailers often make is not offering an incentive for customers to attend the grand opening. “Why would I go to a grand opening if there’s going to be a crowd, and I can come back in two days?” Sullivan says. “I’d rather just wait for there to be no line and no people to shop.”
Matt Hamm, president and owner of Computer Repair Doctor, made sure he didn’t make this mistake when promoting the grand opening of one of his retail locations. He offered people discounts on computer-repair services — plus free pizza and beverages.
Give people a reason to stop by. Make the event significant for the local resident,” he says.
Hamm’s suggestions for other retailers? “If you’re opening a bar/restaurant, give away free drinks or appetizers. Clothing store? Opening weekend discounts on your clothes.”
Many retailers who are opening their first location don’t have large budgets to invest in social media marketing. But, Sullivan advises that if you’re going to invest, do it at the start. “You want to invest upfront and then DIY it later, instead of the other way around.”
If you don’t? You run the risk of damaging your brand, Sullivan says.
It’s generally better to enlist the help of an expert at the forefront. They can lay the blueprint for your social media marketing efforts moving forward, so all you have to do is execute. Starting a social media business account from scratch is extremely challenging, and you could waste a lot of fruitless hours trying to build it up yourself.
Additionally, if you don’t have a budget to promote your social media channels, your reach is going to suffer. Hamm learned this through his own experiences.
“Things we’ve tried that didn’t work were posting without a paid boost. Unless you’re paying to promote the post, it won’t have a high enough reach,” he says.
Not including all event details
Sullivan and her team started to include all of the details for the grand opening in every post, once they had it finalized. You have to make it easy for customers to find out the information about how to attend your event. If it’s too difficult, they won’t pursue the information — and they’ll forget about your debut.
Promoting Your Event: How to Overcome Grand Opening Challenges
Start Spreading the Word Sooner Rather Than Later
Although there’s never a single go-to answer for when to start, Sullivan has found in her experience the four to six weeks prior to launch is a good time to start rolling on social media. This gives you enough time to build buzz, create relationships, and generate a following.
For Johnson, the scenario was a bit different, given the phased grand opening of several retail businesses in a single location.
“We did a huge social media campaign in anticipation of the entire center opening this year, starting the social channels from scratch a little over a year ago,” she says. Today, they have nearly 9,000 followers on Instagram and more than 16,000 on Facebook.
💡 RECOMMENDED READING: Everything you need to get started with Instagram for your retail business.
If your event is extra buzz-worthy, a prolonged launch strategy could be your best bet.
Create a Strategy
Before you jump into your social media marketing efforts, you want to start with a blueprint. “Plan first with a social media strategy,” Sullivan recommends.
Your strategy should include the following:
- Audience definition
- Which social channels you’ll use
- Brand voice
- Content suggestions
Your strategy should also touch on how you plan to spread the word. Sullivan recommends tagging local publications and newspapers. “A new business opening is easy to get journalists to tweet about, since it represents economic growth,” she says.
FURTHER READING: For more on building a social media marketing strategy, check out our list of expert tips to amp up your strategy.
What to Post for Opening Events
One of the first dilemmas many retailers face is what to post — especially for a store that’s not yet open. Here are just a few ideas to get your ideas flowing:
Capture behind-the-scenes visuals
Behind-the-scenes posts are the first go-to for social media content as it relates to your grand opening. “Sneak peeks make [consumers] feel a part of something,” says Sullivan.
Talk about what you’re working on,” she says. “Post about your Home Depot run to get more paint, your first shipment, assembling displays.
Basically, Sullivan explains that if you display your emotional involvement behind the launch, consumers are more likely to invest emotionally, too.
Johnson is familiar with this tactic, too. “We mixed in photos from the actual construction of each of the stores, as well as photos from live interviews on-site,” Johnson says.
Anytime you can include a visual, do it. Tweets with visual content get 150% more retweets, 18% more clicks, and 89% more favorites.
Show your excitement
This is the grand opening of your retail store, and you’re excited! Share that excitement with your audience.
Write a heartfelt text-only post about how long this has been your dream, create a countdown to the big day, and land interviews through which you can share your excitement with new audiences on other social channels.
Because of the phased grand opening for The Summit at Fritz Farm, Johnson says, “we created a 30-day countdown campaign that highlighted a different tenant that would be opening on day one.”
Johnson and team also secured interview spots for the founders that were featured on other social media accounts that already have established audiences.
The more people you can get excited with you, the more likely they’ll spread the word.
Post community-driven content
If you’re active in your local community, it’s a great way to start connecting with customers in your area. Even if it’s not philanthropic community involvement, your passion for the thriving economic growth in the local community can be contagious.
Johnson talks about how The Summit at Fritz Farm was a major symbol for economic development in Lexington. “[We shared] photos from retailers with a short story about their brand and why Lex,” she says.
Engage local influencers
Influencer marketing is another great tactic to get your brand in front of new audiences. “[We] worked with bloggers to promote various brands throughout the campaign,” Johnson says of her experience. “We also invited those bloggers to a VIP brunch on the opening day and had them post live stories while exploring.”
Engaging local influencers — much like getting publicity from local publications — gets the word out on social media to new audiences. Those audiences are more likely to trust the influencers they already follow and engage with than a brand-new store that hasn’t yet opened.
Create fun, engaging posts
Not everything has to be promotional. Social media posts that are just for fun can inspire engagement, relationships, and positive sentiment towards your brand.
Sullivan recommends posts with fun facts or games like fill-in-the-blank activities. Other creative social post ideas could include challenges to your audience to caption a photo, trivia, or games where followers have to guess what’s in the picture.
More Buzz-Building Social Tactics
Create a Facebook Event
One mistake Sullivan says she sees is retailers who neglect to use Facebook events.
“People get notifications and reminders,” she says. But it’s not just for increasing attendance, it’s also helpful for you. Without a Facebook event, you don’t know how to plan. “Facebook events give you more direct numbers and insights, and you can calculate an attendance rate.”
Denver-based Trill Evolutions had a grand opening event, and they used Facebook events to spread the word. They took it up a notch, though, asking for customer information in exchange for additional discounts. This is smart because now they have information to send retargeted social ads, text messages, and emails to their audience in the future.
Giveaways and Contests
You might not have a storefront, but you could have products. And if you don’t have products, you can give discounts.
Sullivan and Two Roosters hosted a sidewalk chalk art contest for free ice cream. This not only created some fun engagement on their social channels, but it also gave them plenty of eye-catching content to post.
Giveaways and contests are always great ideas to generate excitement and make people want to follow you.
Using a branded hashtag can help you build buzz and recognition around your brand and help you track your efforts (more on that later). Use a fun, easy-to-remember hashtag around the grand opening and include that in your posts, advertisements, and in-person promotions.
Using existing hashtags can help you jump in on conversations that are already happening. Don’t use too many, though. More than two, and engagement could drop around 17%.
Paid Social Advertising
After you’ve created and populated your social media pages with organic content, run paid ads. “This helps you get in front of the right audience,” Sullivan says. With social ads, you can choose who you want to serve the ad to, and this includes geographic parameters (especially helpful for grand opening events).
Hamm has firsthand experience with how much paid social advertising can amplify your efforts. He was able to reach nearly 7,500 people with a single paid boosted post — for just $34.02.
Other paid social ideas include Snapchat filters. “This is especially good for customers who need something to do in line,” Sullivan says.
Interested in launching ads for your retail store?
In addition to paid social ads, you could set up Shopping Ads on Google to boost your store's sales. Learn how in our 11-step guide to launching Google Shopping Ads.Visit the guide
Engage With Followers
A major part of social media marketing involves community management. Remember, social media isn’t a one-way conversation. Brands need to interact with their followers and answer their questions.
Social Media Post-Mortem: Measure Your Grand Opening Campaign
After your grand opening event, it’s important to analyze how impactful your social media marketing efforts were. This will help you adjust strategies moving forward and learn insights about your customer base and business.
Tracking real-life actions taken because of digital initiatives isn’t always the easiest thing to do. But there are some clever ideas and helpful tools that can give you some insight.
Of course, you can calculate the attendance rate from your Facebook event and look at your branded hashtags.
One reason the branded hashtags are a good idea, Sullivan points out, is because you can track the use of those hashtags later. This provides direct engagement and reach numbers.
Look at qualitative data as well, such as individual interactions on social media, or customers who have come into your store and referenced the Facebook event or Instagram post about the event.
There are many paid and free social media analytics tools you can use, too. Sullivan recommends a few of her favorites, plus maintains an exhaustive list of more social media tools:
- Brand24: This paid tool is great for social listening. You can use it to find out what people are saying in your area, about your industry, about your store and products, and about your event.
- Awario: This is a more affordable social listening tool that does much the same as Brand24 but with slightly fewer features.
- Canva: This is a free tool that’s helpful for content creation. You can create graphics and collages, add text to images, and make other creative visuals to accompany your posts. Pay for the full version to access additional features.
- HootSuite: This tool is a social media post scheduling tool. You can also use it to engage with your audience. It will save you time to schedule social media posts in advance, rather than signing in every time you want to post something. There is both a free and a paid version.
- Buffer: Much the same as HootSuite, Buffer is a social media post scheduling tool that’s also available in a free and a paid version.
- Facebook Pages Manager app: Especially handy for the entrepreneur on-the-go, this app will enable you to manage your Facebook business page from your phone.
Keep the Momentum Going
Community management and proactive social media marketing remain essential to your retail business long after your grand opening. You’ve spent a lot of time and effort — and possibly money — on attracting and building an audience. To neglect them after the big event isn’t only a missed opportunity, but also a potentially bad move.
Those customers could easily forget about your store and feel as though the connection they’ve built with your brand was just a ploy to get them to spend money, rather than a genuine interaction.
The most successful grand openings are the ones that generate excitement and brand awareness for years to come. You can use social media to stay top-of-mind — and promote your one-year anniversary event!
Stay top of mind with email marketing campaigns, regular giveaways/contests, posting user-generated content, and engaging with customers via your branded social channels.
Have you used social media to promote your grand opening or other sales event? Share your experience in the comments below.