By Caitlin Brennan

August 9th, 2016

Going back to school after summer may be a bummer for kids, but it’s a bonanza for many brands. If you sell paper and pens, back to school can be your Christmas. Millions of young consumers visit office supply stores late each summer, dreams of academic success in their heads and all manner of pens, paper and digital doodads in their shopping carts. These students may not yet have offices to supply, but these early experiences picking brands can build customers for life. So who is getting straight A’s in back to school social media and who should hit the books a little harder? We have a report card.

Don’t message for messaging’s sake
Consumers don’t give extra credit for extra posts, so there is no need to churn out content if it doesn’t provide value, or at least a chuckle.


Nobody ever said, “I almost went to a school that was too expensive, but a tweet from the people who sold me a pencil sharpener and some binder dividers told me to look into student loans.” Office Depot is not a guidance counselor and being thought of as one won’t do anything for the bottom line. Consider what your customers might want and ask yourself how your content shows off what you can offer, even if it’s just a good attitude.

Instead of generic advice, a social media manager of a similar brand may want to meet with product development staff to learn about the latest and greatest new products. Keep an eye out on social media for people using old products in new ways. If you want to show the world that you have a good office supplies store, start communicating like a good office supplies store.

Here, Staples stays relevant with a fun video. Much better!

Keep service social – and snappy
Students going off to college have a completely new relationship with the world as a consumer. Many have credit cards for the first time and are learning to buy the household products that magically appeared in their homes growing up. (Thanks to mom and dad, not the dish soap fairy.) A high school senior is generally not given free reign to pick his family’s laundry detergent, but a year later and it’s his decision for the rest of his life.

With new consumer freedom comes consumer problems. Social customer service is now the preferred method of many young people for getting responses from brands. How long do you think an average 18-year-old is willing to wait around listening to your hold music?

In one comment thread, Staples shows how to solve a customer problem quickly and earn a mini-testimonial to the quality of your service:

Ricky Rick

The customer starts out angry, but Staples responds with a calm professionalism. The problem is solved and the customer reports back that he is happy with the resolution, letting others know that this is a company that both pays attention to complaints and solves them satisfactorily. In short, happy customers are likely to be return customers. It’s crucial to provide excellent customer service all the time. Be it to create a relationship with a new customer or keep your current customer happy. 

Show off your lighter side
How does a big box store express friendliness? With humor. When properly deployed, humor can keep your social media presence both welcome and relevant. How does an office supply store goof off? By sticking googly eyes on office supplies, of course. Not only does Office Depot give us a smirk, it uses a popular hashtag as a prompt.

It doesn’t need to be brilliant, just endearing. Unlike the guidance counselor strategy mentioned above, this reinforces something useful and positive about the brand. Specifically, the joke relies on the fact that Office Depot has a wide selection.

Winner: Staples
Office Depot made a pitch-perfect video that displayed just the right tone for the brand and the occasion. However, Staples stuck to the basics and had a clear justification for their posts. Their social customer service is exemplary. A young consumer picking where to shop can see how Staples pays attention and treats its customers fairly.

Students come to school to learn, but the knowledge they graduate with may not be limited to what they hear in the classroom. Back to school marks the end of summer vacation and the beginning of a busy shopping season. Smart brands know when their customers are making purchasing decisions and develop a social media strategy accordingly. Does yours?

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