Finding the Sweet Spot for Content vs. Sales in Social Commerce

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This post is Part 4 in a 4-part series on social commerce. Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

It’s tempting to spend all your time on social media relentlessly pushing your brand. “Use this promo code for 20% off your next purchase!” you’re tempted to tweet every chance you get. “Buy one and get the second free!” you want to shout from your Facebook page.

But think for a moment how you’d feel if your favorite brands were pitching to you nonstop. At some point, you might find yourself shutting down, ignoring the message, no matter how compelling the deal or how perfectly useful and appealing the products are.

Besides, social media’s strength in commerce isn’t in making hard sales. Its true value is for forging a lasting relationship with your customers, by encouraging sharing of content, generated both by users and by your team, as well as providing them with useful, actionable information.

Think about your own personal relationships with friends, business colleagues or anyone else you care about keeping up with. These relationships need careful tending and frequent exchanges, whether that means a phone call or an email, or a coffee date. And it doesn’t just mean asking for favors or advice. It means sharing news of your life and activities, your opinions, creative ideas, your recommendations even. In other words: a content exchange.

Marketers called social sharing one of the best marketing tactics for increasing conversions, reports eMarketer in a recent report. And the respondents also said that user-generated content, such as curated product collections or images and videos, was almost as effective.

Why a balance of content matters

Providing your fan base with meaningful, relevant content is invaluable; at the same time, you’re hoping to eventually convert browsers to buyers and increase average order values from existing customers. To be sure, you have to walk a fine line, but by establishing trust and connection with consumers on social media, your brand can only reap the benefits. Twitter, in particular, because of its 140-character limit, is well suited to broadcasting news of upcoming promotions. However, a best practice among social media marketing is to keep those types of tweets to 20% or less.

 

Arnie Gullov-Singh, chief revenue officer at Polyvore, a social media platform that lets users curate pictures of items they like and then links to retailers’ websites, sees content as critical for inspiration on social media. “And to do that at scale, you need the community because retailers and brands have thousands of products, and they can’t possibly merchandise them all in an inspirational way,” he told eMarketer.

 

Macy’s executive Jennifer Kasper, Group Vice President of Digital/New Media and Multicultural Marketing at Macy’s also gave some insights into why she sees its presence on social media as so critical and why content is key. “It’s important for us to be there as a brand—to be chiming in as much as it’s appropriate and facilitating ways that she can share information,” she told eMarketer.

To that end, Macy’s put Pinterest buttons on its digital ads and began encouraging consumers to share and like items they saw on Macys.com. Just as important, she said, was to engage customers in Macy’s brick-and-mortar stores, by encouraging them to photograph items on their smartphones during their shopping trips and share them with their friends on social media. “We want to encourage that sort of behavior because we see it being beneficial to our business, and that kind of positive word-of-mouth that comes out of social media,” Kasper said in an eMarketer interview accompanying the report. Video content can also be compelling. For example, Macy’s videotapes its in-store demos, for cooking, makeup and fashion, and posts them online, according to another interview with Kasper on ClickZ. “The demo of Bobbi Brown putting on a smoky eye isn’t just happening at Macy’s Herald Square,” she said. They understand it’s not ALWAYS about the sale, but also about providing value to their customers.

So, what should you do with your sales vs. content social media mix?

What works best for your brand will depend on your goals, your audience demographics and what you want to communicate, but all marketers looking to encourage sales from social efforts should consider this model from ShopIgniter’s Marko Muellner on the key purchase path components needed in social commerce:

  1. Awareness + Discovery

  2. Participation + Consideration

  3. Decision + Purchase

Thinking in terms of purchase path components is a great starting point for any social media marketer looking to build out or sharpen their social commerce skills. When brands with sophisticated social commerce strategies approach meeting these objectives, they often take an integrated approach across all social platforms, not expecting to meet every area of the purchase path via one channel. Macy’s Kasper, for instance, has their formula all figured out: “We use Facebook for reach at scale, Twitter for breaking news, Instagram for an insider’s perspective and Pinterest to connect products and drive commerce.”

The bottom line? Finding your brand’s sweet spot is going to require trial and error, a whole lot of testing, measurement and an aligned commitment towards social commerce with your marketing team.

If you have any best practices or tips for a winning social commerce practices, please leave in the comments below!

 –Kristine Lowery, Content Marketing at Sailthru