Can social media save the high street?

I took part in a debate at Imperial College's ThinkSpace in London last week with the BBC's Chief R&D Scientist, Brandon Butterworth, and podcaster, Neville Hobson. We were...

Digitalk London

I took part in a debate at Imperial College’s ThinkSpace in London last week with the BBC’s Chief R&D Scientist, Brandon Butterworth, and podcaster, Neville Hobson. We were asked whether digital media is destroying retailers or could be it’s salvation.

Digitalk London

There’s no doubt that Amazon, iTunes and eBay have taken a large chunk out of the highs street, but I prefer to look on the bright side. I think we’re on the brink of something new and fascinating in the world of shopping. Top Shop’s ‘model cams‘ – cameras attached to models to give buyers a model’s-eye view of London fashion show – and their hook-up with Google+ were just the latest in a series of smart integrations.

With 40% of consumers more likely to buy a product if a friend has recommended it via a social network, I think the opportunity is self-evident.

But there’s also another revolution happening much closer to home. In the debate I mentioned my local cafe, which is, frankly, in the middle of nowhere and, by rights, ought to have lasted about 10 minutes in the current business climate. Thankfully, it’s a great cafe, and luckily, it’s owners understand the power of social media at a local level to drive more custom.

This isn’t about numbers. They have fewer than 200 fans on Facebook, but their latest post – about selling local honey – got 23 Likes, meaning it was ‘recommended’ to hundreds of people in my neighbourhood. That’s highly targeted, nearly free, advertising – and it’s available on tap.

Another point I made in the discussion combines the thinking behind Top Shop’s activities and my local cafe: it’s about building a community around your business. For brands, this is usually a virtual community, using Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Twitter etc. that they can engage with and involve in their products – with co-creation being the ultimate sharing experience.

Local businesses, though, have a much more powerful weapon in the retail battle for our attention: genuine community. By providing a place to meet, supporting local products, hosting local events and responding to local needs – local businesses can take co-creation to it’s ultimate destination, co-ownership, or at least a sense of it.

I gave a talk at Moo.com‘s pop-up shop in Shoreditch a few months’ ago. It was part of a series of free talks they were offering for local businesses and entrepreneurs. It was live streamed with a back channel discussion on Twitter. Everyone enjoyed it and we all felt a closer to Moo.com as a result.

By using social and local, hand-in-hand, plus a little innovation, retail businesses should be able to thrive. Watch the video and see if you agree. I’d welcome your comments.

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