In the heyday of Christian retail, many stores operated under the maxim, “If we stock it, they will come.” And the customers did come, lining up to buy The Prayer of Jabez or the latest “VeggieTales” video. But then came Amazon, and today, with the advent of smart devices, they can buy anything, anywhere, at anytime.

The draw of Christian retail now goes far beyond the product, and the good news is that customers of Christian resources are still out there. To attract them, storeowners need to grow and nurture authentic relationships with their clientele and develop their store into a gathering place.

Holidays such as Easter present the ideal time to cultivate this sense of community. One of the more robust ways to do this is through social media. Unfortunately, the 2016 CBA State of the Industry report revealed that 25 percent of respondents didn’t even have a store website. The best place for the social media newbie to start, as the song says, is at the very beginning.

SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are the most popular social media channels. For CBA Board Chairman Sue Smith, manager of Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, Michigan), Facebook is key. “For our largest events, we boost the post and get pertinent feedback. Lately we’ve used Facebook to advertise an event with an ‘A-list’ author and within two weeks, the event was full. That’s the cheapest marketing for a 300-person event that I’ve ever experienced,” she says. “We’ve started using ‘Facebook Live’ as well during our events or to show off a live book review. We’re still experimenting with it, but it’s been fun to see the comments fly in.”

Heather Adams, owner of The Greatest Gift & Scripture Supply (Pueblo, Colorado) and CBA board member, says Facebook is her main social media outlet, but she soon will be linking to Twitter. “I post a minimum of three  times a week, sometimes as often as three times a day, depending on what’s happening in the store, what new product we get in, or what the Holy Spirit brings across my desk.”

She initially was surprised at the responses her posts received. “I figured if I put on posts about sales, those would be the ones that got the most likes, shares, and comments, but they rarely are. In reality, when I put on product pictures with a caption of something simple like ‘our employees are great at merchandising new product’ or ‘we get some of the coolest things in,’ these are the ones that do well.”

The popularity of these personal-touch posts comes as no surprise to Angela Breidenbach, president of the Christian Authors Network. A specialist in social media, she recommends retailers remember “social media posts that are visually beautiful, humorous, or interesting should help, teach, create laughter, or spark ideas in [their] customers.”

Adams has discovered that human-interest stories make customers feel as if they’re part of the store community. “I have a segment I call ‘Good Samaritan Sighting.’ I have a graphic that shows a ‘Good Samaritan’ and we post that along with a shortened version of the story, and wow! I can’t even believe the hundreds of interactions those stories get.”

She knows that when people share her posts, her store’s name gets into newsfeeds. “It keeps you in their minds and does so way more frequently than most other forms of advertisements are capable of. The more you become a part of their life, the more often they think of you for their needs,” she says.

BUILD HOLIDAY EXCITEMENT

When it comes to connecting with the community around Easter and other holidays, Breidenbach suggests inviting local authors to help run a special event that connects their book to cross-promotable products, then promoting the event through social media.

“Build a promo with how-to books, household items, specialty baking/ cooking supplies, and cookbooks tied to the holiday you’re promoting,” she says. “The event can enrich the holiday experience and family traditions or simplify life during the season.”

Adams says it’s vital to let people know what sets your store apart.

“Pay attention to your statistics page; gear your posts according to your audience and schedule them at times your prime audience is on Facebook,” she says. “Take pictures of some of your displays and let people know when special things are happening. Take time to schedule these posts in advance, so you’re not bogged down with trying to create or remembering to post during your busy times. Show what fun your store is, what unique things you have, what an amazing staff works there. Those are the things that make them care about you.”

-Lora Shrock