‘People believe people like themselves’: meet the shop-floor TikTok stars
Step aside Kim Kardashian and Joe Wicks, retailers are turning shop floor managers into the new influencers, as their home-spun video clips are building a huge fanbase on social media.
Marks & Spencer has Craig Field at its store in Longbridge, whose enthusiastic TikTok clip about how to use self-scanning technology went viral, garnering more than 1.3m views; at the Superdrug White Rose store in Leeds, the staff TikTok stars have more followers than the health and beauty chain’s corporate account, and John Lewis’s team of insiders and personal stylists is making waves on Instagram.
Brands may spend millions of pounds on mainstream advertising but these folksy, unvarnished social media clips and photos are building relationships with customers in a way glossy TV spots can’t. In an age of digital takeover, they highlight the benefits of physical stores, where regular customers can feel part of the family.
Sharry Cramond, the marketing director of M&S food, says the retailer began using local social media at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when there was a demand for store-by-store updates on what was in stock and whether there were queues. Now all stores have their own Facebook page and 200 have TikTok accounts; and the company draws on the Instagram posts of a host of insiders to fuel online fashion content.
M&S gathers up to 3m views on store social media pages every week, with its stores in Yate, Bexhill and Gloucester all garnering more than 500,000 views a month. The Romford store’s Halloween Thriller dance pulled in more than 300,000 views on TikTok alone.
The M&S TikTok clips began as just a way to make videos for Facebook, which is seen as a key way to communicate with M&S customers but have now taken off in their own right.
“When we set this up to tell people about pasta and toilet roll we had no idea we would be standing here today with 600 Facebook accounts,” she said at the launch of M&S’s Christmas ad this week.
“We are creating social media stars. People are getting famous in their own communities.”
She said the accounts helped to build word of mouth in local communities, which was incredibly important for a brand. “People believe people like themselves,” she said.
The trend builds on the use of staff to represent a brand in television ads, a technique tried and tested by the companies such as Asda and B&Q.
Field, who has a stand-in cardboard cut out, such was the disappointment when shopper fans couldn’t take a selfie with him on days off, says the West Midlands store has made about 60 clips over the past year and he is in most of them after volunteering, with a colleague, to get involved.
Field, whose main role is in staff training, says M&S’s social media team send out a weekly package of products and services they would like promoted but store teams have “a lot of freedom to presents things how we want to”.
He was a bit taken by surprise by the popularity of some posts but says: “I think customers love it. It shows someone they can relate to talking about products and services and it is not too serious. It can be a bit of fun, a laugh and a joke compared to traditional advertising.”
John Lewis started working with staff on social media in 2017 and there are now 366 with Instagram accounts linked to their work. The company provides social media coaching and training on how to create engaging content but the staff have full editorial control over what they post.
The retailer has a talent division, aimed at turning its most successful social media operators into influencers.
Victoria Thewlis, a personal stylist who has more than 30,000 followers on Instagram, with some of her posts being viewed millions of times, says she began with picturing potential outfits laid flat. Now she posts videos and lots of pictures of herself going about daily life with tips and responding to questions she’s had from customers. “It’s not all sell, sell, sell, it’s about inspiration and ideas,” she says. Customers are as interested in what she’s wearing to work as what she’s wearing on a night out. “You have to tap into your inner narcissist,” she says.
The power of Instagram became particularly obvious during the pandemic when Thewlis was able to continue working online while stores were forced to close – getting virtual personal stylist appointments via her Instagram account. Now 80% of appointments in store are also from people who have seen her social media account.
“We are experts and [now] we are able to bring our help to a wider audience,” she says.