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The Key Benefits of Social Media in eCommerce

At first blush, the idea of being an online merchant may seem way easier than running a brick and mortar store. All you need is to decide which ecommerce platform is right for you, upload photos of your services or merchandise, and let the money roll in, right?

Uh, not exactly. Your first order of business is to reckon with the fact that you’re up against millions of competitors who also thought that being an online merchant would be a cinch (or at least a good idea). Add to that the tangled task of curating your social media channels to sharpen your brand visibility. In many ways, the world of digital advertising can be split into social and SEO. We’ve written before about ecommerce SEO best practices—but how can social media also help you expand your ecommerce operation?

First, let’s delineate a few related terms—social selling, social commerce, and social media ecommerce marketing:

  • Social Selling: Using social media to find and nurture sales prospects.
  • Social Commerce: Selling services and products via social media storefronts. (Facebook Shops, Instagram Shops, Pinterest’s Product Pins, the Collections feature of Snapchat, and so on.)
  • Social Media Ecommerce Marketing: A broader category that encompasses building brand awareness, routing web traffic to your site, advertising and selling, as well as social selling and social commerce.

For this blog, we’re going to focus on how social media ecommerce marketing can enhance your ecommerce presence. Considering that 44.8% of internet users use social media to find brand-related information, and that consumers spend about two and a half hours per day on social media, developing social tactics tailored to your ecommerce store may help you reach a larger audience and bolster your bottom line. So let’s explore a few ways you can use social media to build your ecommerce brand.

Define Your Conversion Goals

Before you sprint ahead and sign up for accounts on all the major social media platforms, you need to ask yourself which one is right for you. Research who your target audience is, which social channels they frequent, and what types of content they engage with. Imagine that you’re a working, traveling mom of young children who shares tips via Instagram about how to navigate planes, trains, and automobiles with a few tykes and a cooler of breastmilk in tow. Your target demographic is probably going to be working, traveling moms of young children—women who may be about 25–35 years old, who frequent Instagram and Pinterest, and who are just as tech-savvy as the person serving them content.

With this audience in mind, determine the end-goal of your social strategy. Are you trying to drive them to your site, or are you engaging in some good-new-fashioned social commerce (which we’ll get to later), or both? Let that quandary marinate, and then let the platform you decide to use help you hone in on your objectives. Instagram and Facebook, for instance, let businesses pick one of three conversion goals:

  • Catalog Sales: Allows you to pull products from your catalog and put them into ads.
  • Conversions: Helps you encourage your audience to take a specific action on your site. (Add a product to your cart, for instance.)
  • Store Traffic: Tailored to brick and mortar shops, this ad goal helps you promote your store to customers who are nearby your store.

Instagram and Facebook also let you pair ad formats to your campaigns—usually through video, image, carousel, or collection ads. That last option is a handy tool for ecommerce brands, as it’s designed for vendors to show off their wares, which helps them tap into the importance of mobile commerce. But scope out the sales features of all the big social platforms to figure out which ones will best showcase your products and services.

Build Brand Awareness

Perhaps the key benefit of developing a social media ecommerce strategy is that you can expand your brand awareness. Branding is crucial to your business because it tells your story, establishes trust, and clarifies how you stand out among all the other ecommerce brands out there. Consider social media to be an opportunity to show off whatever makes your brand unique—the depth of your expertise, the empathy you have for social movements, or that penchant of yours to make total strangers laugh out loud. (If that last point sounds trite, remember that humor is a surefire way to drum up a following or clinch a sale.)

An inevitable question lurking about this topic is how social media impacts ROI. Unfortunately, those calculations can get squirrely, because social media often amounts to an engagement strategy with your audience that increases how many people know about—and, ideally, like—your brand. Social media, as they say, is about retention, not acquisition. So transmuting metrics of audience reach into money can turn into a guessing-game. Still, we know that 53% of Americans who follow brands on social media become more loyal to those brands, and that the key to increasing the awareness of your ecommerce store through social media is to post consistently.

Tweet out a fleeting thought once every six weeks, or livestream on Instagram a few times a year, and you won’t see any uptick in the number of people who follow you. Instead, be an active presence on your channels, reply to your customers’ comments, and create content that consumers find valuable. If your posts fail to give your audience the answers they’re looking for, they’ll seek out other social accounts that they find to be more resourceful.

Sell Through Social Commerce

Remember the social commerce options that we listed at the outset of this blog—Facebook Shops, Instagram Shops, Pinterest’s Product Pins? Take full advantage of them. They’re free, and they’re integrated to make the sales process easy. Plus, Facebook and Instagram are better known than you are (at least, we’re assuming they are), so until you become a household name, capitalize on the legitimacy they impart on their users. Somebody coming across “Wacky Bob’s Ecommerce Emporium of Miscellaneous Wonders” via a Google search might think twice about clicking that link, but somebody who finds a miscellaneous wonder that Wacky Bob’s selling on Facebook Shops might figure, okay, Facebook’s vetted this guy, so this will be a safe transaction.

Many brands far more prominent than Wacky Bob, such as Target, use social commerce to add videos, post reviews, list events, upload photo albums, include maps of nearby stores, and create abundant opportunities for people to browse products ranging from honeywood blossom candles to the Martha Stewart MTS-PS10 telescoping electric pole chain saw. (Which, at $99, feels like a steal.) 

Let’s say that you do want to buy Martha’s telescoping chain saw on Target’s Facebook page. You’d click the “View on Website” button, which would link you off to Target’s site. For other transactions, that button might read “Buy on Facebook.” You can link up your social media accounts and purchasing channels into a warp and woof of loops and connections, but the fundamental point here is to bear in mind what you’re selling. Candles or chainsaws of summer swimwear—sure, snap a pic and throw it on a Facebook or Instagram Shops page. For more complex sales, however, where users need to examine and mull over the thing they’re purchasing—engagement rings and mortgage refinancing terms and leases for senior living communities all come to mind—social commerce is probably not the best channel to sell on, since users tend to make snap decisions on social and buy the same way they would pull clothes off a rack at Target a few hours before going to a party. Instead, nurture prospects of more intricate sales on your website. And speaking of which … 

Drive Traffic to Your Site

One downside to social commerce is that, although selling through the shopping interfaces of major platforms has its perks, you are still, in some sense, selling under the awning of another merchant’s storefront. Another tack you might take is to set up your social media accounts to serve as a slip ’n slide that routes users into your site—the checkout counter that you control. Consider the sheer volume of users that you could reach advertising on these channels:

  • Facebook: 190 million people.
  • LinkedIn: 170 million people.
  • Instagram: 140 million people.

Granted, the audience interested in your niche is probably a fraction of all those unwashed masses, and only companies with canyon-deep pockets can afford to pay enough to plunk content in front of most of them. But let’s say you’re that Instagram startup influencer who posts traveling tips for working moms. Social media can serve your operation as an inbound marketing tool, sending other working, traveling moms to your site to buy your training materials or hire you as a consultant. 

Our advice for this influencer is to observe the 80/20 rule of social content, which holds that 80% of your strategy should be quality posts or videos, while 20% should be CTAs or discounts that promote your brand. Remember how we said that social and search comprised the two spheres of digital advertising? Those spheres often overlap. Case in point: The more that users share your social content, the higher your ecommerce store will float up the SERPs (or search engine results pages). Which makes sense: Inundate people with offers and they may think you’re spamming them. Share content that interests or educates them, and they’ll keep following you—and even look forward to the next time that you post.

Collaborate With Influencers

Another benefit of social media: The ease with which you can team up with influencers that your followers love, or with another brand in your niche that can introduce your business to a larger audience. 

Again, let’s say that you run an Instagram account with tips for mothers of young children who travel for work, finding ways to pump or store breastmilk in an airport or a convention center. Reach out to an influencer who specializes in car seat safety or Yeti coolers:

  • Interview them for your podcast.
  • Ask them to review your site and services.
  • Host a Q&A session on Instagram Live about the industry you’re in.

Newsjacking, or the art of aligning your brand with a topic that’s trending, is a related strategy. As everyone with a New York Times app knows, each day brings a fresh opportunity for the media to blast us with “Breaking News” updates. So if you’re overseeing the aforementioned Instagram account and a story breaks about all the Yeti coolers in North America have been recalled due to safety concerns, your task is now to newsjack that report before another story breaks in its place and sweeps it away. Comment on it. Post a video about it. Redirect people to all the Igloo or Coleman coolers that you’re selling on your ecommerce platform (rather than anything that that charlatan Yeti’s peddling these days).

To generate user interest in your content, you could also partner with your own users. Encourage your viewers to share their stories about how traversing the TSA checkpoint at an airport is 1,000 times more harrowing with an infant or a suitcase of pumping equipment. Give them the stage to explain how the Mother’s Lounge is a life-saving oasis, the Starbucks barista can’t grasp why you need a cup of hot water to warm up a bottle of milk, and the passengers on your flight are put out that you’ve brought your child with you, but what they don’t understand is that you’re in Mama Bear mode and your baby isn’t on the plane with them—they’re on the plane with your baby.

Asking your followers to post about their experiences will help consolidate a community that becomes loyal to your brand. Once you’ve amassed a following, point them in the direction of a third-party website like Amazon where you sell some of the products that you trust or that you developed. A tactic like this is akin to leveraging the influence of platforms like Facebook or Instagram to engage in social commerce. Uploading products into Amazon will let you capitalize off the legitimacy of the largest ecommerce brand in the galaxy—and help you set up your shop amid a more rapid stream of digital traffic than you may be used to sustaining.

Work with a Social Media Agency

We often think of social media as the top-of-the-funnel channels where you charm and attract users to your brand, rather than an opportunity to close a sale. Yet the recent innovations in social media ecommerce may be changing the character of social from an organic customer acquisition generator to a paid media model. Time will tell. For the last 21 years, we’ve seen social media undergo seismic changes, and our job involves monitoring its ever-shifting uses and features and advising our clients how to harness it to achieve their goals. Reach out to learn how the insights of this social media agency can benefit your ecommerce brand.

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