Every day, we are exposed to ever-growing amounts of media. I’ve touched on this when talking about various mobile and Internet technologies and their impact on retail. In last month’s column, I discussed unstores and other emerging retail trends, many of which are experience-based, rather than being centered on purchase intent. If those concepts seem lofty or farfetched to you, don’t worry. You’re not alone. There’s a generation gap happening, and we’re all falling on one side or another.

Our industry is at the edge of an interesting time. We’re largely an old-fashioned industry, favoring tried-and-true business models, advertising channels and consumer interaction. We’re also late adopters, and we’re generally suspicious of changes, of trends and of anything that pushes the boundaries of the retail experience to which we’ve grown accustomed.

Again, I’ve previously touched on these topics. I’ve written about the reluctance on the part of some independent retailers to adapt to new technologies and market trends. It’s apparent to everyone that having a nice storefront is important, although I regularly see stores that are still hopelessly happy to plug along as a dingy hole in the wall that people used to frequent. On the other end of the spectrum, I see megastores that are trying desperately to “wow” with their bigness and stacks of gear. However, high overhead and consumer burnout on that type of shopping experience have caused people to search out a third kind of store…one based on the consumer experience.

For a while, it was the Internet, which, for many independent retailers, has proven to be a tough nut to crack. Make no mistake: Big retail is catching on. Malls are closing, new concepts like unstores are being explored and site-to-store shipping is popping up all over. I’m encouraged by the early adopters of this trend in MI retail…stores like Chicago Music Exchange, The Guitar Sanctuary, Spicer’s Music and others. They are creating unique and interesting spaces, to which customers are gravitating.

It’s obvious to everyone that Web sites are important, although many still lag far behind in that regard. It’s obvious to most that Facebook is important, although I still find plenty of stores that struggle to maintain a Facebook page—the most basic frontier of social media. Seriously, folks, this has been written about and talked about to death. There have been, and there continue to be, NAMM Idea Center sessions about Facebook that suit beginners and advanced Facebookers, and that are presented by experts. Yet, there’s still a serious lack of engagement by many stores out there, particularly those in specialized MI retail. And, there are still holdouts that just don’t believe social media is important or part of a viable business strategy. If you don’t get why social media is important, then I really can’t help you.

If you don’t have Facebook, or if you do but you aren’t regularly posting original content, you almost certainly aren’t cultivating a Twitter or Instagram following, or a YouTube channel like the Acoustic Letter (a product of The Music Villa). What is original content, you ask? Original content is anything you create yourself, as distinguished from regurgitated memes or manufacturer posts. Why is original content important? It gives customers a reason to come back to see and experience things they can’t get anywhere else. It’s also an opportunity to put some personality into your social media presence.

I’ll admit, I’ve neglected Instagram and Twitter. Already an avid Instagrammer (@inktree, if you enjoy dog and cat photos), I started an Instagram account for Larry’s Music Center (@larrysmusiccenter, follow us!) only a few months ago. Lately, I’ve been pushing it on our store Facebook page. I’d neglected it for too long. And, after seeing the masterful job the guys over at Reverb are doing, I knew I needed to get on the ball. It’s a fun way to show off what’s happening in the store and to highlight new products in stock. My iPhone is all I need to take great photos, and I love the Instagram filters. I’ll often use a secondary photo app like Hipstamatic or Camera Plus to take photos, too. I’m still neglecting Twitter, so I’m investigating interesting ways to be more active on my personal Twitter account (@gabrielobrien) before I start to focus on the store’s account (@larrysmusic).

One area in which I’m really, truly behind, however, is YouTube. About six years ago, I made some videos as an experiment. They were quick things filmed in five minutes with the Zoom Q2 handheld video recorder when it first came out. So, they were sloppy and not that good. I tried to highlight interesting products, and I got the store’s Owner, Brad Shreve, to appear in a few. Like I said, they were by no means good; they were fast and relatively easy to make, though. As time moved on, other things took precedence, and it’s now been about two years since I uploaded anything. As someone who prides himself on understanding the reach of social media, I can’t believe I’d never taken the time to quantify the value of YouTube and to develop better content. So, while doing research, I checked in on our little YouTube channel, just to get an idea of what a starting point looks like for an independent retail store that doesn’t have time to put much energy into videos. We had 221,685 views as of this column’s writing.

YouTube is the original frontier of what journalists like to refer to as “New Media.” It’s a daunting and, at times, mysterious thing, to be sure. The idea that people can spend hours making videos of themselves and posting them online, and that it somehow translates into a degree of art or celebrity, is mind-boggling to many…and downright silly to some. A whole generation has grown up with YouTube, though. These people don’t only follow the ever-growing revolving door of flavor-of-the month personalities; they also use YouTube to learn how to fix a bike flat, repair a leaky faucet or—yes—play the guitar. And, although we might scoff at this, like everything else at which we’ve scoffed, it has become huge and it shows no sign of going away. Many retailers and manufacturers have made names for themselves with pedal demos, instrument comparisons and by throwing guitar cases off three-story buildings to prove their durability.

As I said, I’ve been terribly behind on YouTube. However, 221,000 views for some videos I made in five minutes with a handheld recorder represent something too significant to pass up. My mind is racing with the things I can do with a couple of mics from my recording studio and my DSLR camera.

Tune in next time to learn more about New Media and original content. In the meantime, if you want to share your social media content, or just send things you think are awesome examples of how to do it right, e-mail me at

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