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Target on Social Media: How the Retail Giant Markets to a Social Audience of 138 Million

This weekend, Target rolled out its “Around for Good” digital and TV campaign highlighting its model corporate citizenship.

It was an initiative the retailer shelved during its security breach last year but brought back in time for the Billboard awards. This seems like an ideal time to take a look at how the brand has weathered controversy using social media and how it maintains a unique message across different platforms.

Here are the numbers: Target has a massive social audience of 138,441, 927, including Twitter followers, Facebook fans, Instagram followers, YouTube subscribers, Pinterest followers, Vine followers, and LinkedIn followers.

But those are just fan totals. What strategies is the recently-embattled but mega-popular retail giant employing to see social media success across multiple social channels? Here’s what you oughta know:

They divide to conquer.

Target maintains a different handle for each customer need on Twitter. It’s got a main @Target handle that aggregates everything from new or exclusive offerings to deals on its #cartwheel app (more on that later).

It’s got @TargetStyle for the young fashionistas it caters through via big designer collabs and trend-savvy apparel offerings.

It’s got @TargetDeals (pretty self-explanatory).

And it’s got @TargetNews for company-wide news.

This multi-handle strategy allows users to choose which Target experience they want, preventing unfollows and avoiding the trap many brands fall into on Twitter – inundating follower with content that is irrelevant to their needs and just plain bugs ’em.

For instance, if I’m a big fan of Target’s apparel offerings but have no interest in what’s going on with the company as a whole, then @TargetStyle is the handle for me to follow. On the other hand, if I’m a businessperson and want to keep tabs on what the retail giant is up to, then I can follow @TargetNews, as oppose to following @Target and getting frequent customer-oriented updates.

They’re all about the #cartwheel.

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Cartwheel acts as a modern-day coupon book, allowing users to choose deals and scan barcodes directly from their phones at checkout. Users can also choose promotional deals at Target via Facebook. If a buy is made, Cartwheel shares that activity with friends on your Facebook feed. In the past year, the number of Cartwheel users has grown twice as fast as expected, and 80% of the app’s users engage with the software weekly. 

Target’s year-old mobile app might be Facebook-focused, but it relies heavily on Twitter to drive users towards it. Between @Target, @TargetDeals, and @TargetStyle, the bullseye brand Tweeted 24 times using #Cartwheel between 5/1/14 and 5/16/14. Interestingly, there have been zero #Cartwheel mentions from Target’s main Instagram account – and only one from the TargetStyle Instagram account.

This tells me that Target is focusing its #Cartwheel efforts on Twitter, a social platform with an up-to-the-minute “daily deals” mentality that doesn’t require the beautifully designed visual content Instagram does, and often just links to the Target site itself.

They’re addressing PR crises on social media – and choosing the platform wisely.

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 4.34.54 PMTarget’s had a rough ride in the last few months. There was a data breach, which had a serious impact on customer confidence in the brand. Then Target’s CEO of six years stepped down. And, finally, an anonymous employee released a statement to Gawker expressing dismay at the company culture and direction.

So Jeff Jones, Target’s CMO, took to LinkedIn to clear the air and assure clients, investors, partners, and the business community at large that Target is acknowledging the rough patch and moving forward with alacrity. It was a smart move. Why?

Because LinkedIn is a social media space for professionals, professionalism, and brand positioning. Because it is a sphere where folks have a longer attention span than at most other social media sites. And because it showcases admirable transparency – the equivalent of going out into the city square, declaring your new direction for all the world to see and implicitly asking the audience to hold you to it. On a macrolevel, this is great news for LinkedIn, as it’s being seen by brands as the ideal (and invaluable) forum for posts of this kind.

They’re big on replying.

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Target does a fantastic job of replying to comments on Facebook. In fact, Target responds to 64% of comments within the hour, and 99% of comments within 24 hours.

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That’s a remarkable turnaround, and a great example of how the brand’s committed to investing in customer service on social media.

They’re active on every social media channel- and aren’t afraid to cross-pollinate. 

Target does a lot of cross-platform social media work, like posting a YouTube video about party-planning tips from beloved Pinterest-ers – and it works. This video has 679, 329 views. It’s the result of Target’s partnership with three Top Pinners who designed exclusive collections for Target that “make throwing a Pinterest-worthy party easy,” and it’s a winning example of how brands can take Pinterest interest-piquing one step further towards the YouTube “How To” video format that keeps eyes around for longer.

Target’s creating rich media and capitalizing on the popularity of social media-savvy decorators on every visual social media platform out there in an effort to cement its reputation as the place to go for functional items that make everyday occasions more beautiful.

They’re into takeovers…on Instagram, that is. 

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 4.41.31 PMTarget reps its delightful design bent on Instagram too, recently letting #designCRUSH @brockdavis take over its Instagram account for a week, thereby leveraging his followers to pay attention, bringing a breath of fresh air into Target’s feed, and more closely associating their brand with good design (not to mention taking a load off the social media team for a bit).

Interactive on Instagram. 

Target likes to post interactive content on Instagram, encouraging users to go a step beyond just “Liking” their content.

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They’re into sneak peeks. 

Target uses Instagram’s visual nature to show off its latest designer collaboration collections, such as this sneak peek of Peter Pilotto’s line.

They make sure their content always shows off their product. 

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Many social media strategists make the mistake of focusing so much on “brand message” that they forget to highlight what their company is selling and/or hopes to accomplish. Target does not make this mistake. Its Instagram content is always visually stunning or full of attention-grabbing whimsy, but always product-centric.

They’re paying serious attention to Pinterest.

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Target has built an entire (beta) infrastructure around its products that are trending on Pinterest with

Wrap-Up / What You Should Try

1. Divide ’em up. Don’t use one handle as a catchall for sharing information about your company and its offerings. This creates an unfocused muddle of content for users, especially for big brands.

2. Choose Twitter for daily updates. If you want to keep followers updated on what daily deals or new offerings on a regular basis, Twitter is the platform for you.

3. LinkedIn is a corporate town square. If you want to clarify your brand’s message, make a splash in the corporate community, and capture longer attention spans, it’s the place to be.

4. Invest in customer service on social media. It makes your brand seem responsible, proud of its product, and loyal to its customers – in a space where everyone can see how far you’re going to make your customers happy.

5. Go a step further with YouTube. Consider building content on social media channels like Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, with the grand finale taking place on YouTube.

6. Let an expert in your field take over your Instagram feed. For a day, a week, an hour – whatever works for your brand.

7. Dream up strategies that make users do more than click “Like.” It’s how you know folks are really connecting to what you’re doing.

8. Remember that your social media presence is in service of your product. And that your product – or call to action – must be evident in everything you post.

9. Utilize sneak peeks. They build curiosity and are a perfect place for you to show off your playfulness.

10. Don’t be afraid to build infrastructure…around a social media platform that especially speaks to your brand.

Wanna test out some of Target’s social media strategies? Make sure you’re measuring the success or roadblocks to your efforts. Click below for a free 14-day trial sure to knock your socks off and help you develop tighter social strategy than ever before.

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Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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