When it comes to using social media, several issues typically motivate digital marketers to give it a whirl. They can't ignore the numbers -- the more than 80 percent of U.S. consumers who Forrester Research says use social media on a monthly basis, and the more than 50 percent of adults aged 35 to 44 who now actively participate in social networks.
Digital marketers are also attracted to the ability of social media to incite conversations between customers and brands that can improve loyalty. Examples abound of brands that have effectively harnessed social media to strengthen their relationship with their customers.
Regardless of their motivation, marketers never forget their bottom line, and that often takes the form of product sales. There's some new information about the impact of social media on online shopping habits that's bound to be of interest to everyone dabbling in this space.
The results of a research study conducted by Leo Burnett and Arc Worldwide offer some useful insights into the relationship between social media and the consumer online shopping experience. Above all, it found that Internet shoppers employ social media in order to gather information about brands and products from other consumers. This differs from the way they interact with advertising delivered by way of other media like television, print, and radio; they rely on these more traditional channels to "form their own impressions and analysis." In fact, 39 percent of Internet shoppers who tap social media "strongly agree" that they can learn a lot about a brand by reviewing the opinions of their online peers.
Additionally, the survey found that social media is a part of the consumer shopping experience throughout the online purchasing cycle, as opposed to mostly at the beginning (like TV and print) or at the end (like in-store promotions). Not all consumers are actively participating in social media by posting reviews of their own -- just one in four make such contributions -- but they put stock in what's being said about the products and services that interest them at numerous stages of their decision making process.
BusinessWeek last year reported on a survey that seems to support these claims, at least as they relate to teens. In the study, conducted by social networking site myYearbook, 81 percent of respondents said they'd received advice from friends and followers relating to a product purchase through a social site. And 74 percent of those who received such advice found it to be influential in their decision.
Hopefully this behavior factored into your social media marketing plan during the development phase. If it didn't, it isn't too late to make a few strategic adjustments to better serve your customers as they seek to engage with your brand online.
Many brands launched their Facebook Pages when doing so was trendy and lacking a presence on the site was taboo. If little consideration was given to how these pages play in the purchasing process at the time, and yours looks more like a print ad than anything else, infuse it with some new life. Post status updates that invite your fans to take part in a conversation, and ask them to share their positive experiences for others to see.
Given the inclination of Facebook users both to offer and receive purchasing advice through the site, it also makes sense to post coupons and specials that can easily be shared with family and friends.
Using Twitter as an avenue to disseminate dry product information is a mistake. Users aren't following you to learn more about your products; they have access to your site and countless consumer reviews for that. Instead, be proactive by seeking out tweets about your brand and responding to engage current and potential customers (read: shoppers). Bring the conversation to your Twitter page, where existing followers (and everyone who sees your feed on your brand site, Facebook Page, or display ads) can watch.
Also, be particularly conscious of where consumers are in the purchasing cycle when you respond to their comments; an opportunity might exist to offer genuine help in the way of coupons, discounts, or advice on where to make their purchase.
Forums, Message Boards, and Consumer Review Sites
This is where the majority of shopping-related conversations are taking place, and where many consumers are forming their opinions of your brand. Keep a close watch on what the influencers are saying, and respond as quickly as possible. This can both demonstrate your dedication to solving customer gripes, and show your gratitude for positive product feedback.
What's written on these sites often lives on in perpetuity. Don't miss out on the opportunity to make your presence and opinions known, exhibit your commitment to your customers, and display your confidence in your products.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.