Build Your Business:

A Social Media Game Plan for Apparel Decorators

September 9, 2013

For many busy shop owners in the apparel industry, the mere thought of how confusing and ineffective their social media efforts have been is enough to give them an audible sigh and a big red welt from a stress-induced forehead slap. Sure, they have a Facebook page and they have posted something on Twitter once or twice, but nothing has really translated into substantial sales. Who has time for LinkedIn (that’s just for resumes, right?) or writing a blog article? It’s all so confusing and it doesn’t work anyway.

Sound like you?

Well, you have it all wrong. To understand how to use social media to its best advantage takes some effort, skill and understanding. Success in this medium it’s all about interaction and the engagement you share with your customers. The goal of this article is to set up a working game plan you can easily follow and use in your shop to build your brand, gain new customers and increase sales.

This industry is made up of an incredible number of diverse niche businesses, which is what makes it so unique. It’s hard to outline a “how-to” guide, as many of the things that may work for one company could fail for another.

Therefore, much of the following information and suggestions will be less focused on one niche, and more generic in nature. That being said, let’s look at some key components that are vital for a good start in social media.

1. Understand Your Customer. Before you start throwing things out on your social media channels, it pays to take some time and effort to really understand your customer first. Have you completed any type of marketing study, compiled any data, or pinpointed who is most likely to use your company’s services? Dig deep and get to know them. Where are they on social media? What are they saying? What is your competition doing? Remember, they want their money too. Despite what you read, not every customer can be found on Facebook, especially if they are business owners. Tip: Studying your customers should be a constant habit. What are they doing right now? Get to know their voice.  

2. Speak From Your Voice. When developing the content that you share on your social media streams, it is vitally important to be consistent in what you post. Everything you do should be working toward your goal and be written from the viewpoint of engaging your customer base. You want your posts to speak from your voice toward your customers just like they are in the room with you. Social Media means “social,” as in a conversation. Share compelling and resonating content. Tip: If you are always self-promotional, even your most loyal customers will be turned off and your efforts will be ignored. Don’t constantly share every little update about your apparel line, brand or shop. It’s OK to share those details, but watch your frequency.

3. Engagement is the Key. Remember, you want to have a conversation. If your posts aren’t being liked, shared or commented on, then you may want to consider moving in another direction. Think about what you are posting, and make everything that you post add to the value that you bring your audience. There is a considerable amount of trial and error. Keep at it until you strike gold. Tip: The same content shared on multiple social media streams, or even at various times, can have completely different results.

4. Be Patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your social media program. Rather than worrying about the size of your followers, you should concentrate on engaging with the ones you have. Lots of people get discouraged when they compare themselves to other similar companies and find their results lacking. Don’t worry about it. Of course, you should actively seek to build your follower base with some recruitment effort, but your main concern should be to energize the people that already are there. Tip: Think about your social media program as if it is a party. You want the people attending the party to have a fun, memorable time. This is achieved by focusing your attention on them. Worrying about all the people that haven’t shown up yet can be problematic. Energize the people that are already at the party!

5. Plan It Out — Think! One way to really get the most focused direction for your social media efforts is to have a written plan. This can be as detailed as you want, but you should set some specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely (SMART) goals for your social media program and think about how you are going to achieve them. Use a calendar. What does success look like for you? Define it somehow. Is your ultimate goal to build more awareness and a brand following? Is it to drive more selling opportunities to your shop or online store? A dollar amount in sales? Setting SMART goals allows you to work backward to achieve them. Tip: Don’t be afraid to involve others with more expertise or to ask questions to achieve your goals. This includes your customers. Find out what they want and how they like to be engaged.

6. Be Concise. Short and sweet works best for most social media content. You only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention, and even less time to keep it due to the overwhelming volume of competing messages found online. Use all the tools available to you to make what you are posting relevant and noticeable. This includes photos, videos, graphs and other creative content. Tip: Rather than writing long posts online, write brief, attention-grabbing headlines and include a link back to your website. Have a call to action at this point, which could include a sign up for your newsletter, an invitation to follow your blog or links to sales opportunities.

7. Listen. This is vitally important. If you consider your social media efforts a conversation, then the most effective tool in carrying out a great conversation is listening to the other person. For social media, this means reading what your audience is posting. What are their cares and concerns? When they engage with you on your posts, what is their viewpoint? Tip: If your social media posts are met with dead silence and nobody reposts, likes, shares or engages with you; this means your content may not be relevant to them. Try something else.

8. Listen Again. The old phrase, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” is never more apparent these days in business. Use social media to your advantage by researching what your direct competitors are doing online. Where are they placing their time and money? What sales or incentives are they offering? Tip: Be careful about showing your connections online with tools such as LinkedIn, as your competition can poach your client list with just a click. On some social media channels, you can hide your connections so others can’t see them.

9. No Negativity. You are representing your brand, shop and company. One of the biggest challenges in writing content is that people have a hard time reading inflection in written form. Negative comments come across badly and generally are poorly received, and quite often simply ignored. Positive, uplifting and encouraging content is always well-received, and usually generates tremendous shares, likes and reposts. Tip: Read your customers’ content and encourage them in whatever they are doing without asking for anything. Just being nice will solidify your relationship and gain you a larger audience, as others may also crave your interaction.

10. Business Only. Your goal is to drive more sales. Posting content about anything in your personal life diminishes your efforts and weakens the other content you may be sharing. If you want to talk about the big game or how long the wait time is at your kid’s school, create a personal account and post there. For people that follow your business, this is information they don’t care about and will start ignoring your business-oriented posts as they skip over it. Tip: Use your social media plan to compare and reflect on things you want to post. If the content you want to share doesn’t add value to your goals, don’t post it.

11. Be Honest. Everyone is watching. The Internet is ridden with business corpses that pushed out untruthful or exaggerated items and that were eventually exposed. Tip: Remember the old refrigerator rule? If you can’t print it out and post it on your fridge for your mom or kids to read, then maybe you shouldn’t post it.

12. Use Apps and Tech to Make It Easy.  Why struggle with your social media efforts? There are many app and software options available to make your life easier.
      a. Buffer This app is one of my favorite tools, as I schedule my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn posts out for an entire week. There is an analytics tool that can count clicks if you share a link, so you can easily see how many people in your social media stream are reading your content. If you have multiple accounts (such as a personal and a business Twitter account), you can share the same content at one time. Hootsuite is similar, but I like the cleaner look of Buffer.
     b. SocialBro This app is great for analyzing your Twitter efforts. One important feature that is very useful is the ability for SocialBro to measure the “Best Time to Tweet” based on your top followers on Twitter. It runs an analysis, and shoots you the feedback on the best times to post built from when your followers are using Twitter. You can then use this information to schedule your Buffer accordingly.
      c. Feedly I’m always looking out for content and what’s going on in the industry (such as by subscribing to RSS feeds, blogs or other sources of information. Feedly groups my subscriptions into an easy-to-read format. Anything that comes up that I’d like to share, I can add it to my Buffer app from Feedly.
     d. Tweepi This app shows you all the people you are connected to on Twitter and gives you information about them. You can unfollow anybody that isn’t relevant or inactive. A cool feature here is the ability to follow someone else’s followers (an industry guru or maybe your competition, for example).
     e. Pulse Pulse takes content from my favorite websites and arranges them into an easy-to-read magazine format. Instead of clicking around the Internet and going to different sites, I just review what’s posted on Pulse and read what I’m interested in. I can share from Pulse to my social media streams too.
     f. Google Analytics What website wouldn’t be complete without measuring who has been on the site and all the data associated with it?  

13. So how do you make it all work? For the apparel decoration market, the best way to go about building your social media program is by understanding your customers and knowing where they live online. Strategically, it’s important that you are consistent in what you present and actively listen to the audience (your potential customers) in how they respond to your efforts. For example, if you mostly are targeting corporations and businesses, the decision makers are more apt to respond on LinkedIn than anywhere else. If you are a T-shirt brand, Facebook or Twitter may serve you best. There isn’t a magic bullet, as everyone’s business is different. Worse, there are articles, books, webinars and experts (including me) who contradict each other with their opinions on what will be successful. Instant success with this is an illusion. It is hard work and you have to use your brain.

That being said here are some tricks I’ve learned along the way that seem to work for me:
     a. Cross post. Provide information or content on multiple posts.  
     b. Set yourself up as an expert. Provide content through blog articles, answers on forum groups, on LinkedIn or other social media streams to position yourself or your company as an industry expert. Nobody will know that you have the skills unless you can show them.  
     c. Use social media for innovation. Crowd-source your ideas by asking your fans and followers for their opinion on details such as colors, designs, or details that might be decision points on your new product offering later.  People like to be “in the know”, and by asking your customers for their opinions you show that they matter. This is a great way to build a network of brand champions that will actively sell for you on their social media streams by sharing.
     d. Got employees? Have everyone post your messages on their social media stream, which dramatically increases your reach.
     e. Prep your content so it can be easily shared. Unique content that you write yourself can lead to some excellent sharing opportunities. People will repost items that they find interesting and are helpful. Make sure your website and blog have share buttons for your readers to easily repost your content. Also, it helps if your content is easily skimmable. Use headlines, numbers or bullet points.
     f. Use attention getting headlines. Draw your readership in with catchy phrases. Think about what would make you read the post. Keep it short for resharing too.
     g. Use pictures or video. Nothing says you know what you are doing as taking a picture or video of you doing the work. Have your camera ready and take pics as handle different things. Use them in your social media to highlight and add pizazz to your post.
     h. Pay attention to metrics that matter. Metrics are great, but how you use metrics is what matters most. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have if it doesn’t translate to sales. You can get overly wrapped up in bounce-rate, pages viewed per visit, conversions, and other analytic terms. What really matters is if the work you are doing with social media is helping you achieve your goals or not. Set finite goals and learn how to work backwards to achieve them.

Your social media plan must be tailored specifically for your business. If you think about your plan as the conversation between you and your customers, you can understand where your efforts need to be constructed. Learn where your customers hang out. Participate in their conversations. Have a unique voice. Show that you are interested in their opinions. Help them with their challenges. Set goals and work to achieve them, and don’t be afraid to fail and try again with something different.

If you would like to follow our social media to use as a guide, here are some links:

Twitter: @atkinsontshirt

Visual Impressions and Ink to the People
Twitter: @inktothepeople

Marshall Atkinson is the chief operating officer of Visual Impressions Inc., and Ink to the People, Milwaukee. Atkinson has lectured on sustainability at ISS trade shows, and webinar industry panel discussions regarding the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). For more information or to comment on this article, email Marshall at