With the holidays fast approaching, merchants are scrambling to formulate the strategies that will engage shoppers amidst heavy competition. Social media offers plenty of shiny new opportunities — but for maximum effectiveness, merchants would do well to cover established best practices and social media basics first.
There’s a reason that merchants persist with social media, despite its oft-bemoaned lack of direct revenue generation: social networking audiences are huge, growing, and constantly engaged. Two-thirds of U.S. online adults now use social media, and thanks to mobile devices, they check their favored networks frequently: some 45 percent of Facebook users visit several times a day, as do a third of Instagram users and more than 20 percent of Twitter users.
Given the audience and the frequency of engagement, it’s no surprise that merchants find social media a worthy investment, even though immediate clicks on the “buy” button are still rare. Merchants report spending some one in 10 digital marketing dollars on social efforts, and those investments pay off. Close to 80 percent of consumers globally report being influenced by social media when it comes to purchase decisions, according to consulting firm PwC, with more than 40 percent saying that reviews and comments and promotional offers factor into their buying patterns. And the majority of those who’ve interacted with merchant brands on social media report being favorably influenced by the experience.
With so much influence at stake, it’s understandable for merchants to be tempted by new social networks and the potential new audiences they represent. Cresting the waves of social media popularity are social media messaging services such as WhatsApp and Kik, the image-messaging service SnapChat, and streaming video apps such as Periscope for Twitter and Facebook Live; all these services and apps have experienced phenomenal growth since their launches, and especially among the coveted younger demographic.
But for most merchants, these new social mediums represent significant potential investments for as-yet-undefined rewards. Especially for those still struggling to justify social media investments, experimenting with new formats shouldn’t be a top priority. More than a decade has passed since Facebook first launched, and before they branch out into the great unknown, merchants should follow what are by now established best practices for eCommerce sellers on social media. Among them:
No. 1: Optimize paid Facebook plays. It may be considered staid at this point, but Facebook still has overwhelming appeal among all demographic groups. Fully 84 percent of younger consumers aged 18 to 29 use Facebook — more than the 71 percent average for the entire U.S. online population — and unlike newer social phenomena, the site also attracts more than half of all online consumers aged 65 and up. For that reason, merchants should ignore Facebook at their peril.
At the same time, Facebook is notorious for tweaking its news feed algorithms to favor personal relevance versus commercial content — so it’s worthwhile to invest in paid placements to supplement the “organic” exposure gained through the news feed. Among the opportunities to explore:
- Remarketing items browsed but not bought
- Carousel product ads showcasing the breadth of the merchant’s product offering
- Geo-targeted ads for in-store promotions
- “Buy” buttons for popular and top-rated items
No. 2: Let shoppers tell the story. Social media is said to put shoppers in control by giving them the power to comment, like, and share — but many merchants don’t capitalize on this potential asset. Instead, many sellers’ social content feeds are still one-way conversations that do little to showcase their audience or followers.
For starts, merchants should fully equip shoppers to promote products and content with ubiquitous sharing tools, especially on mobile devices, where social networking activity is most prevalent. Through users, merchants can gain visibility even on social networks where they don’t have official branded outposts — which can also be a useful way of discovering which new networks are popular with potential customers.
Merchants should also showcase how shoppers influence their brands, from user-generated content contests to hashtag campaigns to email and website promotions that quote customer reviews and other contributions.
Kibo merchant Gund has connected social promotion with charitable giving, a potentially potent combination. Gund donates stuffed animals to charitable organizations based on how many “hugs” campaign participants earn through liking and creating social content. The campaign is featured on the Gund homepage as well as on social media.
No. 3: Extend stellar, one-to-one service. As we’ve written recently, some two-thirds of consumers have used social media for customer service, and expectations are high for speedy and effective responses. Merchants should ensure that they’ve covered the customer service bases by setting the parameters for service hours and response times, and then exceeding those standards with personal service that goes well beyond the canned response.
In particular, merchants should explore Facebook’s private-messaging option as a way to deliver instant, personal, and one-to-one service using an app many shoppers already have installed on their phones. If they opt to use Messenger, merchants should optimize it with auto-responses that help set expectations for service speed, as well as take advantage of location services that connect shoppers with the nearest physical outlet.
How are you making the most of social media heading into the holidays?