Counterpoint: Digital upskilling

03 March 2022, 08:00 AM
  • Is 2022 the year you take your business to the next level online?
Counterpoint: Digital upskilling

For cheesemongers and delis, digital platforms offer opportunities to reach new markets, tap into an ever-growing customer base and engage with shoppers to encourage repeat sales. If you’ve yet to take advantage of this growth market, there’s no time like the present. Discover four tips from industry professionals who have paved the way

Tip 1: Narrow your focus
It may seem wise to make your shop visible on every social media platform out there to maximise potential followers, but chances are if you’re a small, artisan retailer, you don’t have loads of spare time to learn the ins and outs of every picky social media algorithm. For that reason, don’t be afraid to narrow your focus and concentrate on using one or two platforms really well. “Instagram is the main social media channel we use at Slate,” explains Clare Jackson of Slate Cheese. “Since April 2018 I have been posting regularly on behalf of the business. Our account is a vibrant visual record of what goes on in the shops and also my personal journey in the world of cheese.

“I tend to push posts across to Facebook, but since I don’t use it personally this isn’t a focus in terms of following others and interacting. I have also stopped using our Twitter account as I feel Instagram is better suited to the visual appeal of cheese,” Clare says.

Tip 2: Be consistent… but also authentic
“The best engagement comes from making a content plan and posting regularly,” Clare advises. Although, she admits, “Posting regularly and putting things on our Story can be time consuming, and I find when things are busy on the shop floor, I often overlook posting – even though there’s lots to share.” It’s a scenario that many cheesemongers will no doubt be familiar with. Clare’s advice? “I find a scheduling app such as Later can help with this, but I also like to be spontaneous and share what I am doing or enjoying at a moment in time.”

Consistent posts certainly keep a constant stream of customers engaged, but once again the quality of your message is more important than quantity of posts. Authenticity can win your shop loyalty online too, so don’t be afraid to veer away from the slick studio shots to day-to-day photos of your changing cheese displays, a behind-the-scenes visit to a cheesemaker or photographs from around town. After all, if you’re promoting your shop as a cheese destination, it’s a good idea to show off what makes your shop and the local area around it so great.

Tip 3: Try new things
In the ever-changing online world, beware of getting stuck in a rut. Try new types of posts, collaborations or giveaways to boost engagement. Some cheesemongers are even partnering with bloggers or influencers to broaden their customer base. Slate, for example, has sent out cheese boxes to individuals to share feedback with their followers and run giveaways. “I am always careful to choose who we work with so that the look and feel of their account fits with our brand,” Clare says. “It can be difficult to assess the impact of these collaborations in terms of new followers or online orders, but I like the energy they can create, and hopefully they spread our offering to new eyes.”

Svetlana Kukharchuk of The Cheese Lady advises that anyone going down this route plans carefully. “I would definitely recommend checking that the influencer has your target audience and agree the exact terms of the interactions before starting. Bullet point everything you are going to for the influencer in terms of product (if it’s an exchange) and ask them to do the same in terms of posting.”

Don’t be afraid to take centre-stage in your posts either. Take The Cheese Shop Nottingham for example – owners Rob and Webb Freckingham have created a persona, Dr Cheese, who introduces new cheeses via videos on Facebook and Instagram. It’s become so popular that he is now recognised around the local area. Braving the camera with videos through Instagram’s Reels or Stories, TikTok or posting directly to your shop’s website engages your audience and gives a personal touch to your e-commerce site.

Tip 4: Learn from the pros
If you have any experience using social media already, you’ll know that the companies behind these apps are quick to update and change the way their systems work. E-commerce capabilities are always advancing, too, which means learning digital skills isn’t a one-time box to tick but a constant journey.

“Over the years I have done online courses and research on the best practises to raise my social media game. But of course, there is always more to learn in this fast-evolving industry,” Svetlana says. For the most part, she has found helpful webinars through her Instagram and Facebook feeds. “Their clever algorithms always ‘knew’ the right webinars to suggest to me based on my interests.” But she insists that there is advice out there for anyone. “There are so many influencer courses for any taste, but the influencers I found most interesting were Jenna Kutcher and Beth Kirby, even though their businesses are not directly related to food,” she says. “They are always up to date on the best practices.”

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