Almost everyone uses social media. As an eCommerce merchant, you’ve no doubt wondered how you can leverage social media to grow your sales. You’ve also found navigating the various media, tools, pundits and “systems” incredibly confusing. The most important thing to remember is, “not all social media is beneficial.” Yes, I said it! But, it is true. If, for example, you’re a manufacturer of zippers selling strictly on a B2B (wholesale) basis, the efforts you would invest to build and maintain an engaging Facebook page is probably not the wisest use of your time. You must also be aware that the social media in which you engage may create results for which you’re not prepared nor welcome.

This is the seventh post in a new series by eCommerce expert, Bret Williams. Marketing an online selling business is a complex and involved subject. In this installment, part 2 of 3, we dive into social media — the good, bad and ugly.

While there can be substantial benefits to wisely using social media:

  • Make sure your brand is thoroughly ingrained. Everyone in your organization should understand your brand to such a degree that any post, response, image or other communication accurately reflects your company values, mission and purpose.
  • Employ systems that require approvals. Especially when posting new marketing campaigns or messaging, you need to make certain every communication is properly approved prior to posting. Your business is not NBC News: you don’t have to rush to post.
  • Plan ahead. Create a social media strategy for the coming months and give you and your team ample time to craft the creative and schedules. Coordinate with seasonal specials, new arrivals, etc.
  • Monitor and engage your audience. Nothing says “you don’t care about your customers” more than ignoring posts — positive or negative — by your social audience. People use social media to be noticed. And looking like you’re ignoring them will invalidate the work you do to build your social media.
  • Have a purpose. This is the most important key to social media (or any marketing, for that matter). Are you using social media to sell products? Provide customer service? Build brand value? While all are good motivations, you may want to start off with a singular purpose per social media channel. For instance, you might use Facebook to sell, Twitter for customer service, and Instagram for building your brand.

Selling on Social Media

As an eCommerce merchant, the most measurable ROI for using social media is related to sales. With any form of advertising, the goal is to derive profit from the use of the media, whether it’s pay-per-click ads, radio advertising, brochures, or social media. There are basically two ways to sell on social channels: promoting products for direct purchase and encouraging followers to visit your store to shop. Generally, you should do both.

Directly Selling on Social Platforms

Most eCommerce systems have the ability to create Facebook stores, whereby your products are presented as a catalog of items to purchase. You can allow users to purchase through Facebook or click to come to your store to buy. Many can also create Pinterest buy buttons, which are product photos with clickable links to bring the customer to the selected product in your online store. Presenting your products on these channels is generally free (there are costs for Facebook check-outs), and since most SMB platforms will synchronize your store catalog with the social platforms, it’s really simple and easy to manage.

Enticing Viewers to Shop

Creating shareable content that promotes your products is more time-consuming, but can be much more enriching in terms of results. By using creative content and engaging images, you have the possibility of creating curiosity from followers, which, in turn, can lead to click-throughs to your store. The key is in the creative: how to compose posts that will truly inspire the viewer to investigate further or — and this is important — share your post within their sphere of followers. The more sharing, the larger your potential audience.

Serving Customers on Social Media

I’m seeing more and more companies offer customer service via Twitter and Facebook Messenger. And it makes sense. After all, these are free tools that are easily available to most of their customers. While Messenger is a one-to-one communication tool, Twitter can potentially expose a contentious customer service issue to a broad audience. As with any customer service tool, you have to be vigilant and pro-actively monitor the channel for mentions and messages from customers. However, for a more robust, traceable and actionable support system, I recommend you use more sophisticated tools to promote as your service channel. We’ll discuss some options later in this series. Nevertheless, if you do use Facebook and Twitter, you should still monitor both for mentions, as these are really direct requests from users for a reaction. Good or bad, how quickly and well you handle these posts will say a lot about your brand. Which, conveniently, leads to our next topic.

Building Your Brand on Social Media

Anytime you have a social channel for your business, you are exposing your brand to its audience. With this exposure comes a huge responsibility on your part to monitor and address any comments, mentions, posts or other items related to your business. Social media is much more than what you post: it’s also about what others post about you. There’s some schools of thought that purport that posting often is better. While frequency can help build engagement — the more times you post, the greater the opportunity to get before a willing consumer — I feel it’s much more important to post good content. If you’re posting trivial or irrelevant information, your audience will begin discounting the value of your communications and may even unfollow you. To build your brand on social media, you should:

  • Avoid the urge to repost irrelevant content. Sure, the photo of the cat sitting on the toilet is funny, but does it have anything to do with your brand? Unless you’re a plumbing supply company, the answer is probably “no.” The bigger issue is that what you may think is funny or cute may end up offending others. At best, it won’t do anything to endear viewers to your brand.
  • Post helpful content. Just as your products may solve customer challenges, you have a real opportunity to help them get more from your products by offering helpful tips. Don’t just promote your products, but promote solutions and advice.
  • Don’t make everything a click-through. It’s so easy to post a link to an article or product on your website. And you should do a good amount of that, to be sure. But you should also offer up information without any direct click-through or payoff. Be generous to your audience and they’ll be generous to you!
  • Use video. We’re finding tremendous returns from the use of video in social media. It’s more eye-catching and people love playing videos on their phones. Apply the same considerations for content (e.g. be helpful), make them short (try to stay under 2 minutes), and strive to make a personal connection with your audience. Your social videos don’t have to be slick or expensive; they only have to be engaging.

Growing a Social Audience

Of course, none of the above social goals are achievable without an audience. You need people to see your posts. The more eyeballs you get on your posts, the more potential engagements. There are lots of programs and schemes on the Internet that will purport to grow your social audience. Some may be legitimate, but most will gain you followers that have little interest in what you’re selling. You don’t need bodies, you need friends. By friends, I mean people who feel some affinity toward your brand or products. We have one client who hired a firm to grow his social network (against our advice, to be sure). While the number of followers increased, the people who liked his Facebook company page were all from other countries to which he does not ship nor do business. In addition, none of these new followers had any use for his products. They were bought by the firm he hired to like his page just to drive up his number of followers. After months of building followers, his sales and engagements from social media had not increased at all. His money was wasted. Growing a social following is much like growing a network of friends: one at a time. It’s paying attention in what your current followers are interested. It’s encouraging customers to share with their friends as word-of-mouth recommendations. It’s constantly engaging with followers who have questions or comments. In short, there is no shortcut to growing an engaging audience. But, if done correctly, the payoff can be much more rewarding. You can start by encouraging shoppers to share your products or their purchases with their own followers. At a minimum, each product in your site should have share buttons that allow a customer to share a product on their social media. Consider using tools that can offer rewards to customers for sharing your content by means of earning discounts or points. One such tool is smile.io. Another, although pricey, is AddShoppers (it requires at least $5 million in online sales). One tool we have begun experimenting with that I feel has great promise is Coopt. They have both an initial reward offer and one that rewards purchasers who share their purchase after completion.

Influencers

A lot is written online about the power of influencers — bloggers and social media mavens with a large number of followers. If your brand or products can be mentioned on an influencers website or their social media, it can help draw visitors to your site. Finding and courting appropriate influencers can be time-consuming and the payoff is not always there. Some influencers charge a fee to review or promote your products. Others may have a long list of requests and it could take considerable time to earn a mention. Yet, influencers exist within your customer base! In fact, customers make some of your best influencers, as they have first-hand experience with your brand and products. You didn’t have to pay them for their opinion and the kudos they give to their followers are more genuine. We use MailChimp’s social profiling feature to identify customers who are active on social media. With social profiling, MailChimp ranks your subscribers and customers as to how active they are on social media. This could be your primary source for organically identifying and courting influencers:

  • Send these influencers tailored messages asking for their feedback. The act of reaching out may inspire them to mention you to their followers.
  • Offer incentives for posting their opinions. Ask these influencers to post a comment on their social media in return for a discount coupon.
  • Preview new products. When you have new items in your store, create a “private” collection and provide the link to these influencers, letting them know they’re the first to see them.

Of course, if you know influencers for whom your products are relevant, you should reach out to them. But, existing customers may turn out to be your biggest fans!

Stay Informed.

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Bret Williams

Bret is the a co-founder and the Managing Partner of novusweb®. He is also author of several books on Magento and e-commerce and is sought as a speaker and trainer. Bret has been crafting internet innovations since 1995.