Unlike a generalized social marketing strategy whose goal is to build brand notoriety, the end goal of a social commerce program is sales. Still, building customer engagement is important to a social commerce program. In fact, forming consumer engagement over the long term is the only way a social commerce program will result in delivering sales.
To build long-term engagement - not just flash-in-the-pan interest in a buzzy social marketing campaign - you must think in terms of building a "participation chain." A participation chain cultivates consumer involvement over time, with each action building upon the one before to establish long-term customer loyalty. I wrote an in-depth white paper on this topic in conjunction with social media expert Ze Frank, but I thought it would be useful to give an overview of the concept to marketers, as well as provide a few practical tips for getting a participation chain started.
Each time a person participates in one of your brand's social initiatives, that person also leaves behind a trail of content that draws in other customers - so each individual participation chain not only lengthens, but starts other chains. The truth is, without long-term and wide-spread participation in your social programs, it will be nearly impossible to generate lasting sales through the social channel. Everyone knows that time and money are two sides of the same coin. In general, the more time a customer spends with your brand - assuming a positive experience - the more likely they are to spend money on your products or services.
As a marketer, you'll want your audience to engage in actions that require a bit of investment on their part, so they really connect with your brand. This is a bit like the "IKEA principle," where the act of building the furniture yourself makes you feel more satisfied with the finished product. In a social commerce world, maybe that investment is playing a game, signing up to be a friend or fan, participating in a short survey, or leaving a product review. By inviting people to continue participating with your brand over time, participation chains create a ripple effect of value that drives affinity and loyalty - and, ultimately, sales.
Here are some practical steps to create a successful participation chain:
In life, the most popular people at a party are the ones who effortlessly keep the conversation flowing. The most popular brands aren't much different; by starting and keeping a conversation going with your customers, they begin to see your brand in a more favorable and sometimes entirely new light. Over time, this loyalty will be rewarded with more purchases. Social commerce, it seems, begins with a little participation.
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Sam Decker is founder and CEO of Mass Relevance, the leading enterprise social curation company. He speaks and consults on digital growth strategy, based on years of experience in technology and social markets. He has written two books on word-of-mouth marketing and is an award-winning blogger (www.deckermarketing.com). As former chief marketing officer of Bazaarvoice, the market leader in hosted social commerce applications that drive sales, Sam worked to help brands present the right user-generated content at the right time in the purchase path, bringing real value to the consumer and the business. Prior to Bazaarvoice he drove Dell's customer segmentation, their customer-centricity strategy, and led Dell's consumer website, building Dell.com into the largest consumer e-commerce site at $3.5 billion in annual sales.