Sears’ social media won’t go down without a fight

Despite reports that the beleaguered retail giant has asked a bankruptcy court to let it liquidate, its Twitter handle is still soldiering on. Is this the right strategy at this difficult juncture?

Twitter image from Sears

Sears might be down for the count, but its social media team is still throwing punches.

The retailer is reportedly in the end game after closing hundreds of stories nationwide and filing for bankruptcy in October. New reports say the company has asked a bankruptcy judge to allow it to liquidate its assets.

The feeling of finality has been in the air for a week or more as uncertainty hung over Chairman Eddie Lampert’s offer to save the company.

Reuters reported:

Sears Holdings Corp will ask a bankruptcy judge on Tuesday if it can proceed with liquidation after it could not reach an agreement on Chairman Edward Lampert’s $4.4 billion takeover bid, casting doubt on the survival of the 126-year-old U.S. department store, people familiar with the matter said.

Should Sears liquidate its assets, it would become perhaps the most high-profile victim in the wave of bankruptcies that have swept the retail sector in the last few years, as the popularity of online shopping exacerbates the fierce price competition facing brick-and-mortar stores.

The liquidation would have a hard impact on employees as more locations would be closed.

Reuters continued:

Sears, which filed for bankruptcy protection last October, may have to close hundreds of stores it is still operating, potentially putting up to 68,000 people out of work, the sources said. Its vast inventories of tools, appliances and store fixtures will be sold in fire sales, the sources added.

Lawyers for Lampert and his hedge fund, ESL Investments Inc, also plan to present details of his offer and make the case for renewing efforts to save Sears, the sources said.

However, Sears’ social media team hasn’t rolled over. Its Twitter handle has been projecting a “never say die” attitude and offering hope to consumers that Sears can make it through.

Reuters reported:

As the company and its bankruptcy advisers prepare for a possible liquidation, the retailer has taken to social media to reassure the public that it is still around.

“We are down, but not out… – SMT,” Sears, via its official Twitter account (@Sears), said in reply to one of the many posts Monday morning about the 126-year-old company potentially going out of business.

Another Twitter user opined that the retailer “had a good run I would say.” Sears replied: “We would say that as well, but we are Marathon Runners, and we are still running. We may be slowing down, but we are not out of the race just yet. Don’t count us completely out. Happy Shopping! -SMT”

The “SMT” signoff is for the Sears Social Media Team that runs the Twitter account, which has a following of 209,000, significantly smaller than many of its retail peers.

The company declined to comment on its social media strategy.

The social media team might be hoping to encourage loyal customers to stick with the company by shopping online.

The tweets have been signed SMT, which stands for “social media team”—but some readers have questioned whether these happy warriors work for the beleaguered brand.

Sears’ online team has commiserated with customers mourning the loss of their local store:

The social media push comes as the news for Sears gets worse, but it could be part of a long view to bring the 126-year-old retailer into the digital age.

Reuters continued:

Sears’ former Chief Marketing Officer Kelly Cook told Reuters at the end of 2017 that the company planned to invest more heavily in social media in 2018.

Cook said marketing directly to shoppers via Twitter and Instagram posts and influencers could help change consumer sentiment toward Sears. The company also planned to use shoppers’ opinions to make operational and merchandising changes, she said.

However, only 9 percent of U.S. millennials – aged between 22 to 37 years in 2018 – said they would consider buying goods from the retailer, according YouGov BrandIndex, a company that tracks public perception of brands.

Does the social media strategy suggest a hidden plan to save Sears? When Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy, it shared similar messages on social media—and then closed all its stores anyway.

Reuters wrote:

“While our store roster may be getting smaller, what is not changing is our desire or commitment to serving you,” Toys ‘R’ Us (@ToysRUs) tweeted from its official account in February 2018, roughly five months after it filed for bankruptcy protection.

“We will continue to operate stores in all major markets and as always, you can also continue to shop online. Thank you!”

Then, in March, Toys ‘R’ Us announced it would sell or close all 885 stores in its U.S. chain, after failing to restructure billions of dollars in debt.

Nearly three months after filing for bankruptcy in October, Sears plans to sell its vast inventories of tools, appliances and store fixtures should negotiations with Chairman Edward Lampert over his $4.4 billion takeover bid end unsuccessfully, sources said on Sunday.

Here are three lessons from Sears’ strategy:

  1. Listen to your audience.

If Sears had ignored the sentiment on social media and pretended it was just another normal communications day, announcing deals and sharing new product photos, the Twitter handle would seem impersonal.  At best, readers could assume it had scheduled tweets ahead of time and was not actively monitoring the account.

It’s always important to listen and respond to your audience on social media—especially if you have bad news to address. Use plain language, and don’t sugarcoat the truth. If your messaging comes from an honest place, people will listen.

  1. Stick with your brand voice.

You took a long time to build your social media persona; don’t abandon it in hard times. The feisty, upbeat attitude of Sears’ social media presence shines through its tweets.

However, take care that your brand voice doesn’t give offense when talking about tough topics. If Sears had a snarky social media presence, it might have difficulty responding to consumers’ grief over the loss of local stores. If your brand usually embraces snark, tone it down for the tough stuff.

  1. Sign your posts for authenticity.

Signing tweets personalizes them, showing you’re responding in an honest and open way. However, make sure readers can interpret your signature.

When Sears signed off “SMT,” some readers were confused, and the Twitter team had to elaborate. Keep it simple but clear.

What do you think of Sears’ social media strategy?

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