Bridging the gap between Social Media & Selling

Ben Foord
By Ben Foord
3 Sep 2014

While many businesses have worked out strategies for using social media to promote their brands and engage potential buyers online, turning that interest into hard sales has not always been straightforward.

Promoted posts on Facebook, for example, are increasingly successful at getting the brand in front of the right eyes. This is thanks largely to the personal data that Facebook requires or encourages its users to supply, allowing ads to be targeted at specific locations and demographics.

But there's a big problem; buying a product featured in a post still involves too many clicks to achieve viable conversion rates - particularly if networkers are using a smartphone.

For Facebook, the ability for its customers to turn paid listings into an obvious and measurable revenue stream is a critical business initiative if it wants to compete for advertising revenue with Google, online marketplaces and other social networks.

As with all forms of native advertising you also need to be sympathetic to the medium. There seems to be a positive relationship between adverts that sit naturally within the user experience and higher click through rates.

A few weeks ago Facebook announced a trial that could significantly improve the opportunities to turn social media presence into sales. On the face of it, the addition of a ‘buy now' button to promoted posts is a simple change; but the implications for Facebook, its users and businesses are potentially monumental.

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Mobile driven change

It's no big surprise that consumers increasingly use mobiles to keep in touch with friends and events on social media. So realistically, any truly successful eCommerce campaigns on social networks have to be mobile friendly. Yet we also know that conversion rates on smartphones tend to be less than half those on PCs and tablets.

Additionally, users are being asked to interrupt their social networking to click on a paid link to buy something - this is not always a welcome opportunity. After all, they are probably networking rather than shopping!ecommerce

It's not hard to see why making money from social media eCommerce has been a challenge.

The big problem with all mobile eCommerce is that filling in forms to complete a purchase can be painful on a smartphone. That's why online trading giants eBay and Amazon already offer one-click ordering. This offers their users the opportunity to place orders without the complicated form filling that puts so many potential customers off.

It seems inevitable that to be a serious long-term competitor as an online marketplace Facebook and others will need to offer similar levels of convenience to their users who increasingly prefer to use smartphones.

The social graph

One area where Facebook potentially has a huge competitive advantage is through its investment in developing the social graph. This produces a picture of users' interests based on the things they've liked and shared.

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Targeting advertisements at people who are more likely to be interested should make the process less annoying for users and more profitable for brands. 

Again though, the practice of identifying a range of interests related to your product and fine-tuning your adverts to the tastes of that audience will be the keys to success. I wouldn't underestimate the effort this is likely to involve.

As with all forms of native advertising you also need to be sympathetic to the medium.  There seems to be a positive relationship between adverts that sit naturally within the user experience and higher click through rates.

The buy now feature is currently being tested with a limited number of small and medium sized businesses. It seems inevitable that it will be widely available before too long - so it's a good idea to start thinking about the strategy you might need to make it successful.

Are there risks?

Clearly the biggest risk for Facebook is that its biggest asset (its user base) gets tired of a social network that increasingly resembles an online bazaar with all manner of sellers shouting for their attention.

Most users seem prepared to tolerate adverts and promoted posts as the price they pay for having free access to their favourite social networks. And, of course, the more successful advertisers are at targeting ads at people who are likely to be interested, the less likely people are to find them intrusive and unwelcome.

Perhaps the recent removal of the gated likes facility is an attempt to even things up. Brands can no longer require people to like an update in order to access particular content.

Brands will also have to think through their social media strategy. Are they looking to engage loyal customers and brand advocates by publishing interesting, helpful or entertaining updates, or are they looking at networks like Facebook as an advertising and marketing channel like Google, eBay and Amazon? 

Trying to do both would probably be a tricky balancing act. And yet we've noticed that businesses that use social media purely as a way to promote new products and offers tend not to be very successful in creating traffic and sales.

We discussed some of the issues and opportunities with social media and eCommerce in this recent article.

Maybe the opportunity to buy directly from a Facebook post will change the rules, but for most businesses I'd still suggest that being a bit more imaginative would pay dividends: mixing up the posts you promote so that some are product offers and some are targeted at increasing engagement with your brand.

Rich Pinsrichpin_screenshot

In some sectors such as interior design and furnishings Pinterest is a popular network. Its strength is that it makes it easy to share images, visual inspiration and ideas.

For some types of business the medium is perfect for drawing in an audience of potential customers, often with a deep level of interest in the products or services they provide. For Pinterest, as with all social media, the challenge is how you turn that interest and loyalty into revenue. 

A while ago Pinterest launched the ability for users to include rich pins on their boards. These have meta data added to help users categorise and find particular types of post.

Rich pins, as the name suggests, add an extra richness to the information in the pin. Currently they come in five types: movie, recipe, article, product and place.

Place pins could be useful for leisure and travel businesses as you can add a map, address, and phone number to a pin.

If publishing helpful and informative articles is part of your online marketing there's also some potential benefit in using the article rich pin which adds the headline, author and story description as meta tags. Potentially, people looking for content on specific subjects should find your articles easier to find if they are tagged appropriately. 

For eCommerce businesses the most relevant type of rich pin will be the product one. You can now add real time pricing, availability and information about where to buy to your pins. And if somebody pins your post they'll be informed automatically if you run a promotion on that product. 

How to use rich pins

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The developer section on the Pinterest site has full details about how to apply to have rich pins and the changes you might need to make to your website to make them work

If you want to use product pins you need to use either oEmbed or semantic mark-up (Schema.org or Open Graph) to collect the data. Or, if in doubt, give your web agency a call and I’m sure they can help you get setup.

Pinterest recommends oEmbed as the most straightforward and flexible way of adding the appropriate tags. However schema.org  seems to be the mark-up that is preferred by Google and may ultimately help with organic search.

If you want the full technical detail on setting up rich pins you can find it here: https://developers.pinterest.com/rich_pins/

Both the Facebook buy now button and rich pins seem to be narrowing the divide between social media and eCommerce. Technically neither is particularly challenging to implement. But where brands might need more support from their eCommerce web agency is in developing broader approaches to social media networks that build long-term loyalty as well as offering opportunities to promote products and offers.