The internet has changed almost every aspect of modern life, and commerce has been no exception. With ecommerce growing 23% year-over-year, new opportunities for online brands and retailers are emerging every day. Technology has enabled brands to reach customers globally, dramatically increasing their potential customer base.
But with so many brands vying for consumers’ attention in the digital landscape, it can be difficult to get noticed. Even assuming you have a great product and an exciting brand image, you still need a platform to get your message across. You have to use the right methods through the right media. And more than ever, the right media is social media.
The Age of Social Commerce
Any ecommerce entrepreneur worth their salt knows that a presence on social media is not just a good idea, it’s a necessity. Facebook has 2 billion users, with Instagram exceeding 800,000 in 2017. That’s a massive potential audience. But having a Facebook page or Instagram feed does nothing if you don’t know how to use them. For that, you need marketing strategy that embraces the changing landscape of online commerce. You need to engage in social commerce.
Social commerce is more than the idea of advertising on social media (although that’s part of it). It’s selling on social media. It’s also using your customer base to spread the word as brand ambassadors, and leveraging influencers to introduce your brand to their followers.
We live in the age of social media, where everyone and their mother has the means to express their opinion in a public forum. Whether this is good or bad is up for debate, but there’s no doubt it can be of great benefits to online brands—if they take the proper steps.
Step One: Get Social
If you haven’t already, think about which social media platforms are best for your brand. While it might be useful to have a presence on all the major platforms, focusing on the one or two where you shine the most could be a better use of your resources.
Facebook is a no-brainer, since it is far and away the leader in number of users. Set up your page with strong copy and dynamic imagery, featuring professional photos of your products, ideally being used or worn in ways that appeal to your target audience. Be sure to carry over your brand image from your website as closely as possible.
Instagram is a must for brands with a strong visual component, especially those appealing to millennials. To reach a young, savvy audience, your content must be relatable, authentic, and contain high-quality, on-brand images. As you curate content from fans and influencers, incorporate the best of it into your feed. You might find that doing so allows dedicated Instagram users to discover your brand before ever running across your website or Facebook page.
Twitter, with it’s 336 million monthly active users, is a constantly moving stream of activity. It’s great for quick messages, product photos, short videos, and interactive conversations with your followers. If your tweets are engaging, your followers might retweet or reply to them, widening the reach of your message. By responding to customer questions on twitter or engaging them in conversation, you can position your brand as proactive, customer-oriented, and engaged.
Pinterest, believe it or not, is one of the fastest growing social networks. Brands love Pinterest because photos on the platform are searchable, pinnable, and shoppable. To many ecommerce experts, Pinterest is akin to a search engine for products—in fact, 88% of users who save pins do so in search of a purchase. Like Instagram, Pinterest is a place where potential customers can discover your brand.
Step Two: Create, Curate and Schedule Content
Once you’ve got your platforms set up, you might think “What’s next?” The next step is adding high-quality content that appeals to your audience and adds value to their lives. This content could be directly related to your brand (e.g., pictures of your product), or it could be something of interest to your customer base that is only indirectly brand-related.
For example, if you sell ski equipment, you could post pictures of your gear (or, better still, models wearing your gear skiing down beautiful snow-covered mountains). Or you could post pictures, videos, or articles featuring upcoming winter sports events, popular snowboarding personalities, exotic winter resorts, or even tips on how to become a better skier or how to choose the length of ski that’s right for you.
Keeping your audience engaged requires regular, maybe even daily, content updates. While a percentage of the content should be original, much of it can (and should) be curated content.
Content curation is the act of sifting through large amounts web content and selecting the best of the best to present on your website or social media. With curated content, you’re not creating something new, but rather presenting relevant pre-existing content to your online audience. Innovations in your industry, news about topics relating to your brand, or anything of special interest to your customer base is appropriate to use as curated content.
Curation strategies might include creating a weekly blog post or email presenting a list of links that refer your customers to content you’ve selected. Or you could share the links on your social media. Either way, it’s best if you add your own brief comments or insights to the links, or ask your audience questions about the content to spark discussion.
Linking to content, even if it might showcase a competitor, shows that you are actively engaged in the community and aware of the work created by other thought-leaders in your industry. It shows that you are confident and connected, and that you have your audience’s interests at heart.
Step Three: Share Customer-Generated Content and Stories
Customers like to share their stories. From product reviews and testimonials to photographs and videos, customer content is at the very heart of social commerce. More and more, people are talking about the products they love, both to one another and to the brands they follow, across all social media.
This customer word-of-mouth is the best marketing possible. After all, consumers tend to trust recommendations from their peers far more than obvious marketing from the brands themselves. Re-share and highlight positive reviews, testimonials, stories, and photos from your customers on your social media sites. You can even incorporate customer reviews into ads on social sites like Facebook.
One company that achieved success with this technique is Blenders Eyewear, who doubled their click-through rate on targeted ads by using customer content. It’s a simple strategy that makes your ads more relatable and relevant to your customers.
Step Four : Leverage Ambassadors and Influencers
The term “brand ambassador” has come into prominence relatively recently, but as a concept they’ve always existed. Successful brands have dedicated followers who enthusiastically recommend the brand to family, friends, and acquaintances. Since the rise of social media, these followers have become even more effective. Their voices are critical in spreading the word about your products and converting shoppers to customers.
Keep an eye on your social media to see what people are saying. Notice the people who post most often to positively talk about your products and recommend them to others. These frequent posters are already acting as online ambassadors. Reach out to them and ask if they would like to take on the role officially—very likely, they will feel appreciated and be happy help.
Another group you should reach out to are influencers—bloggers and social media personalities who focus on specific topics. So called because their content often impacts the preferences and actions of their followers, influencers can be effective in directing people toward your brand.
Start building your stable of influencers by researching your brand followers. Bloggers with at least 1,000 followers on social media platforms who are already talking about your brand are ideal. Reach out to them to see if they would like to enter a partnership with you. Sometimes influencers will be happy to be compensated for their work with free products; others prefer monetary payment.
Keep in mind, when it comes to number of followers, bigger isn’t always better. Marketers are focusing more and more on recruiting micro-influencers, or those influencers with a smaller number of dedicated followers. Micro-influencers can be more effective than celebrities with a massive following. That’s because with fewer followers, a micro-influencer has a closer, more trust-based relationship with their community. And the community is likely focused on a certain topic—like skiing, to continue our previous example. Because of this, campaigns using micro-influencers have 60% higher engagement, are more cost-effective, and drive more conversations.
Step Five: Sell Socially
In our article “5 Technologies You Should Invest In This Year,” we discussed the process of selling your products directly through social media. Online consumers are just as likely to discover your product on social media as anywhere else on the web. Giving them the ability to buy directly from the social platform is a great way to remove friction and expedite the sale. For a great example of how to do social selling right, check out MVMT Watches’ store on Facebook.
Although Facebook currently has the largest impact on social commerce, other platforms hold important positions in the marketplace as well. Pinterest, with its buyable pins, allows users to purchase products without ever leaving the site. On Twitter, products you tweet about can include a “Buy” button, and Instagram now includes several call-to-action buttons, including “Shop Now,” “Install,” and “Learn More.” Even Snapchat is getting into the game, with the ability to add a buy button to its sponsored lens feature.
Social Commerce is not just an interesting option for online sellers; it is a necessary component of the marketing strategy of any ecommerce brand. Cultivating a following through social media, and then engaging your followers in meaningful ways, is a proven method of generating interest in your products. Ultimately, today’s customers want to feel connected to the brands they love. A great social strategy will nurture those connections, leading to ever-increasing sales and success for you and your brand.