The Key Pillars of Social Media’s Value in Ecommerce

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This post is Part 2 in a 4-part series on social commerce. Check out Part 1, “The Incredible Purchasing Influence of Social Media“. 

If you think that managing your brand’s Facebook and Twitter posts alone are already time-consuming enough, consider this statistic: More than 60% of brands worldwide said they were engaging their customers on 7 or more social networks, according to a recent eMarketer report.

That number speaks to a strong conviction of brands that social media presence is a key component of their marketing strategy. But 7 networks? It’s also possible to spread yourself too thin or misallocate resources to the wrong social platforms and, in effect, not reach your community goals. Here are some key priorities to consider as you craft your own social media strategy and the role that different platforms may play depending upon your goals and the demographics of your customer base.

Real-time Marketing

When you want to inform your customers of sales and special promotions, the real-time immediacy of platforms like Twitter and Snapchat let you easily blast out a promo code or a sales announcement – and get a quick response. Better yet, these channels are particularly efficient at reaching the under-22 cohort.

Social media can also be used to communicate real-time pricing. Some retailers, including Target, Overstock.com and Etsy, are using Pinterest’s “Rich Pins” which let a consumer get real-time prices and more product details, as well as receive alerts of price changes and restocking of sold-out items. Target saw its digital traffic increase 70% after introducing Rich Pins in spring 2013, Pinterest’s Steve Patrizzi, head of partner marketing, told eMarketer.

Driving Commerce

Social media storefronts seemed like a good idea to many retailers in 2012, when 62% of the retailers with Facebook apps offered product browsing, but by 2013, that share had declined to just 15%. Another study found that social media shopping site Polyvore had the highest average order value, as compared with Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, but Facebook was the clear winner on conversion with an average rate of 2.69% among some 4.3 million shopping sessions. Twitter wasn’t nearly as effective at generating conversions, traffic or average order value as the other platforms, partly because that’s how how the platform is built. A general best practice is to keep promotional tweets at or less than 20% of all tweets, whereas platforms like Pinterest can be a product playground 24/7.

Brand Awareness

Pinterest is proving to be a powerful platform for brand and product discovery because it allows consumers to just “happen” upon something wonderful they weren’t really looking for. Steve Patrizzi, the head of partner marketing at Pinterest, explained it this way to eMarketer: “Online is great for when you know what you want and you can search and find it and then go and buy it. But it hasn’t always provided this great serendipity experience.”

Retailer Nordstrom’s has been using Pinterest in a truly omnichannel fashion that bridges the online and offline worlds. In June, 2013, Nordstrom created in-store displays of shoes and bags that were trending on Pinterest, accompanied by the Pinterest logo.  The original pilot program has since expanded to 117 stores. Macy’s has also upped its activity on Pinterest.

Similarly, brands are showing a growing interest in Instagram, particularly to reach teens and Millennials. A new report from BI Intelligence shows that social media demographics are continuing to shift, with Instagram taking the lead among teens from wealthy families. Over 80% of upper-income teenaged girls are using Instagram, with Twitter and Facebook taking second and third place respectively. The report raises the possibility that more mature platforms will lose out to the newer players as these demographics get older and continue to shape the social landscape.

Customer Engagement

Since largely abandoning the social storefront, many brands have shifted their focus to creative endeavors that really engage their customers. “Spurring shoppers to create, participate and share is at the heart of most retail social marketing,” says eMarketer. It’s become standard practice for most retailers to place social network sharing buttons on their product pages. Indeed, marketers surveyed by Adobe in 2013 called social sharing one of the most effective ways to increase conversions. They gave very similar marks to user-generated content, such as reviews, product collages, images and videos.

“Our focus is on the customer, interacting with the customer and being where the customer wants to be”, Bryan Galipeau, social media manager at Nordstrom, told eMarketer.

Besides creating a conversation with shoppers, retailers including Nordstrom, J. Crew and Target, are previewing new catalog items on Pinterest and rewarding those followers with early access to new products.

Every Social Strategy Will Be Different

Maybe the most enthralling part about social media in ecommerce is that, to some degree, there’s still a quite a bit that’s unknown. It’s not a traditional ad buy. It doesn’t have the tried-and-true results of email marketing. There is no failsafe approach to making social media a powerful revenue-driving part of your marketing arsenal, but the potential really is limitless when you combine the right channels, with the right content, to the right audience.

 –Kristine Lowery, Content Marketing at Sailthru