How can social media help boost eCommerce sales?

Adam Phillips
By Adam Phillips
16 Oct 2013

It’s pretty clear that social networks are here to stay and that they will play an increasingly important role in eCommerce.  When it comes to getting shoppers onto your site, social media can be more reliable than organic search and cheaper than paid search or direct marketing.  But simply ‘doing social media’ is not a foolproof route to success.

There are so many ways that businesses can use social networks to drive online sales that it’s easy to get lost in the detail and lose sight of what you want to achieve. It’s likely that you’ll use more than one network and probable that your detailed objectives and ways of working will be different for each one.

What probably helps is to look at the different reasons that eCommerce businesses use social media, and to consider strengths and weaknesses of different platforms for each reason.  Remember though, that there is no rule book. The ‘right way’ to use social media is whatever gives you the result you were looking for. 

Which networks?

So many networks and so little time! The main ones for B2C businesses are Facebook and Twitter and, in some cases, Pinterest.  I won’t include LinkedIn as this is primarily for B2B marketing but I will say a little about Google+.

One fundamental point is that you need to look at your social media marketing in a different way from your eCommerce website. Your Facebook page shouldn’t be an alternative shop or a platform for blasting people with special offers and sales promotions. Generally, social networks should be used to build engagement with your customers, reinforce your brand values, and engender customer loyalty.  Aggressive selling is likely to undermine all of these.

On the other hand, there’s no point in doing it unless it leads to increased sales. So the first thing you will need is a map of how the interest you generate through social media will translate into more sales. What sort of journey do you plan to take your customers on and how are you going to measure whether the route is the most effective one?

One reason that all businesses should be active on social media is that it helps with SEO. Social media activity around your site, particularly Facebook ‘Likes’, increasingly influences your search ranking.

Building awareness

One purpose of your social media presence might be to build awareness of your brand.  Your most important keywords could be in a highly competitive area for organic search; or maybe your type of business just doesn’t generate a lot of search queries. Building a profile through social media can be a really effective way of letting people know you exist and getting them onto your website.

The type of things you put on social media should reflect the interests of your target customers. Ideally you want to link to content on your website such as blog articles and videos that are so downright fascinating, entertaining or useful that people will want to share it and come back for more.

Facebook can work really well but the challenge is often building a sufficient number of ‘Likes’ for your page so that people get to see your content regularly. One option is to create a way in which people have to like your page to achieve something they want from your site. An example of this could be something along the lines of “Like us on Facebook and get 5% off your next order”.

Facebook for eCommerce

Is your objective is to build engagement with your brand and reinforce your brand values, or are you looking to drive new sales directly? These considerations will influence both the platforms you use and the way you use them.

Creating awareness through Twitter is often easier. People seem to find it less of a step to follow on Twitter than to like you on Facebook.  You can use your Twitter account to build your Facebook likes by directing followers to content that interests them. I always cringe though when I follow somebody back on Twitter and immediately get a DM inviting me to like their Facebook page – why would I unless there was a clear benefit to me?

Building relationships

One advantage of Twitter is that it is relatively easy to send out several tweets each day with comments or links to things of interest to your audience. It’s a great way to keep yourself in people’s minds in between the times that they need to buy something from you. Think about it as keeping the conversation going with your customers.  If the objective is to build relationships then think really hard before you use Twitter to push promotions and special offers – it might just kill the engagement you are trying so hard to build.

Selling

In many ways Facebook is a more natural environment for selling than Twitter. With Facebook you are not restricted to 140 characters and you can include pictures with the update, so the selling process becomes more self-contained. Twitter inevitably requires somebody to click on a link, which they are less likely to do if they think you just want to sell them something. That’s the main reason that Twitter is usually best used as an engagement and relationship tool rather than for direct sales.

What’s likely to work best will certainly depend on your business. Some are able to get great results selling through Facebook promoted posts, offers, and sponsored stories, while some keep social media as tools for building engagement and routing traffic to their eCommerce site, where the real selling goes on.

Pinterest

I said I’d talk about Pinterest. It doesn’t have the same volume of users as Facebook and Twitter, but it is primarily popular with females who are in higher socioeconomic groups and who are into more visual things such as fashion & interior design. If this sounds like your business then Pinterest is worth looking at.

I also said I would talk about Google+. While historically not a great B2C marketing tool the integration of Google Places means that it is likely to be worth having a Google+ page setup if your business is locally based. These pages often show up well in Google local searches even when they don’t contain much content! A few details and a link through to your eCommerce site could bring dividends.

A few tips:

  • Understand your target audience and choose your networks according to their preferences rather than yours.
  • Make the social media follow buttons prominent on your site, particularly on your homepage.
  • Integrate social media share buttons throughout your site, particularly on product pages – help your visitors to spread the word about what you sell.
  • Be clear about what you expect to achieve from each network and make sure you have a way of measuring it – for example conversion rates of traffic referred from social media.
  • Have some simple policies in place so that more of your team can use social media in a way that you approve of.
  • Use a dashboard application like Hootsuite to manage multiple accounts and track mentions and interactions.
  • Always respond constructively and temperately to negative comments people make about your brand on social media (should you get any) - it shows you care.

Do you have any social media success stories you’d like to share?