How the UK’s top retailers are using social this Christmas

Christmas is a time for sharing – at least that’s what the social media teams of some of the country’s biggest retailers want you to think.

Looking at performance across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram during 30 days in November and December, we’ve found a few interesting nuggets which may help you refine your social approach as we move into 2016.

Which brands are focused on using the festive period for acquisition, attracting a new batch of followers to help spread their version of Christmas cheer? 

Which companies are interested in retention, rewarding those who have stuck with them with engaging content as the long winter nights draw in? And which companies just haven’t really got much of a plan?

O Come, All ye Facebook

Percentage increase in Facebook fans from 13-Nov-2015 to 13-Dec-2015:


Generally minor increases reflecting the stagnation many are seeing with Facebook, apart from some rather unnatural looking levels of acquisition from M&S.

The graph below (from Social Bakers) shows that nearly half a million new fans were welcomed to the M&S page on December 9th. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s first thought would be to suspect something fishy going on in their social media department.


However, as much as I wanted to write an ‘M&S just bought 500k fake fans’ expose, the real reason is a legitimate one. It appears their regional pages – including 450k fans from – have been merged into one.

This brings up further questions around the value of centralised vs. local social profiles, but that’s another debate for another day.

What this has done is severely reduce their page engagement percentage over the pre-Christmas period – it would have been Facebook’s decision on the timing of this merge, and possibly not ideal for M&S to welcome in a load of non-Christian fans at this time of year. I hope for their sake they have a good geo-targeting strategy in place.

Apologies for going back to basics for anyone who knows how the Facebook News Feed Algorithm works, but I’ll keep it brief. Posts are shown to a small percentage of your fans – generally those who have recently interacted with the page. If they like, share or comment, then the number of fans who see it in their news feed increases, and so on. If what you publish fails to appeal to your core followers, Facebook assumes nobody else is going to be interested either so opts not to display it in people’s feeds (unless you pay).


The above figures are based on the ‘People Talking About This’ figure which calculates how many people are referencing a brand, whether it’s on the official page or elsewhere on Facebook.

The extraordinary John Lewis spike shows the original figures were taken when they were still basking in the moonlit glow of their Christmas advert release. Quite when this became a newsworthy annual event I’m not so sure, however the chart demonstrates that as successful as their campaigns can be, day-to-day engagements rates are generally on par with their peers, and significantly lower than the major supermarkets.

Sainsbury’s are one of the only brands who have increased engagement during this period – rather than blowing all their festive beans in one fell swoop, they’ve been able to bide their time and maintain fan interest as advent calendars begin to empty. Their success at the moment could well be down to other brands having little left to offer.

Hark! The Twitter Angels Sing

Percentage increase in Twitter followers from 13-Nov-2015 to 13-Dec-2015:


A close-knit graph that shows all companies we looked at have settled into a Twitter strategy, with nobody really pushing the boundaries. 

Argos top this chart despite coming bottom in terms of Facebook growth, hinting that they’ve decided Twitter is a more fruitful place for them to focus efforts.

As Twitter makes it incredibly difficult to analyse multiple brands on a post-by-post level (unless you own the accounts) I’ve been unable to dig into these in any great depth, however at a glance it seems there are two things that have worked for those that top the chart: discounts and demographics.

Argos went big on Black Friday deals, with huge savings on brand-name products people actually want, rather than the bottom-of-the-barrel stuff that many retailers attempt to flog.

Tesco have been pushing a #GlutenFree Christmas angle in recent weeks, giving them a few engagement peaks among their regular stream of recipes. Clearly it’s an untapped audience who are benefitting from the expert advice on offer around free-from foodstuffs.

Next on the other hand are suffering from their constant RT begging – there’s very little worthwhile content to interest or entertain people beyond product pushes. They’ve trickled over the 200k follower mark while other brands attempt to find more interesting ways to attract audiences.

God Rest Ye Merry Instagram

Percentage increase in Instagram followers from 13-Nov-2015 to 13-Dec-2015:


As the youngest platform of the three, it seems brands are all at very different stage of their Instagram journey – Argos haven’t even started theirs.

Sainsbury’s managed to add to their fanbase by 54% during the period, but they only began with 21,300. M&S on the other hand could already boast 255,000 followers, making their 10.2% increase relatively impressive.

So while growth on the other platforms has stabilised, Instagram continues at pace as more consumers find their feet with it and more brands understand how to adopt the channel as part of their strategy.

Looking at the best performing post from each brand (engagement as a percentage of their following) during the past month, it’s easy to see that what people are looking for fits neatly into one of three categories: furniture, food and fashion.

Note, the posts below are grouped into categories but also given a 1-8 ranking in terms of how they performed against all competitors.







Ho, ho, ho – here’s a conclusion

The one thing that stands out from our review is the general lack of interest in any of the ‘special’ Christmas campaign pieces these companies had put together.


As pretty as this is from the Debenhams Instagram team, by the time people had reached the final post in this series not one person could muster enough energy to leave a comment.

For all the planning and budget that goes into making a festive splash, the most successful content occurs when you add a little bit of tinsel to themes that have already proven successful throughout the rest of the year.

Due to free-flowing mulled wine, people tend to go a little bit crazy at this time of year. However, sensible content producers and community managers will use the festive period to execute what they’ve learned from analysing the past fews months of social activity, not to decide to try and introduce a whole new approach during a crucial trading period.

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