At SES New York this week, the topic of social commerce was tackled by panelists Dana Todd at Performics, Chad Childress at Crown Partners, and Michael Mothner at Wpromote. All three speakers focused on social media positioning and best practices that both retailers and online stores can use to increase marketing exposure.
At its core, social commerce is about providing consumers with a meaningful experience and then giving them the opportunity and tools to share that experience with others. Through meaningful sharing by consumers, brands can get increased exposure throughout social and web properties.
While a "meaningful experience" is in the eye of the beholder, there are a number of best practices that retail and online business need to consider:
Make it easy for customers to make an informed buying decision. Consumers are going to comparison shop even if they are standing in a store and surfing the web. They want to get the best deal possible by comparing prices, reading reviews, and checking for inventory availability. Instead of attempting to prevent this process (for example, one retailer started actively blocking mobile signals in their stores to prevent consumers from comparing their prices against those of competitors', which only led to consumer frustration!) marketers should find ways to give consumers easy access to reviews, product listings, and other resources (preferably sources they have some control or influence over) that can help facilitate the decision-making process. This can include using 2D barcodes within stores, giving site visitors easy access to online customer reviews, and rich media elements like videos, interactive tools, and other things that can help consumers feel comfortable with a plan to purchase.
Consumers respond to brands that can give them easy access to tools they need to share a brand offer or message with other people. The bottom line is that people like to share things of value with one another. Perhaps that motivation to share is based on a desire to help out a friend or maybe to be seen as a trendsetter. Social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest can facilitate this sharing, but it's up to each brand to position these tools so that consumers will use them to start meaningful conversations with other people. Websites should offer consumers easy access to their social media channels through buttons and links. Retailers too can create opportunities for shoppers to use mobile devices to help spread the word and get other consumers involved.
Make a message "sticky" by offering consumers a meaningful experience. To create a meaningful relationship between a brand or offer and a consumer, there first needs to be a personally relevant connection between that consumer and the information being shared. The relevancy of a message or offer opens the door. To be effective, brands must also create ways to further engage consumers so that they can gain more time and attention and tell a more complete brand story. In the long run, brands that can engage their consumers are able to maximize the opportunity for conversion and to create opportunity for more social sharing.
Don't minimize the value of social media sharing opportunities. To be frank, just because a social media channel pops up doesn't mean that it's the best (or only) way for a brand to engage with prospects and customers. Consider the needs of consumers and how they can best use each channel to effectively share information and opportunities with others. Consider also the long-term benefits of each channel. For example, setting up a YouTube channel could be a fantastic way to create a reservoir of easy-to-access videos that offer great reasons to purchase and answer questions about a brand or service. But unless that channel is monitored and maintained over time, it could also send a negative message about the vitality of a brand, and drive consumers away.
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Rob Graham is the CCT (chief creative technologist) of Trainingcraft, Inc., where he heads up development of customized training programs for a wide range of digital marketing, entrepreneurial development, and digital media clients.
A 20 year veteran of digital media, Rob has served as the CEO of a multimedia development company; an interactive media strategist; a rich media production specialist; a Web analytics consultant; a corporate trainer and seminar leader; and a chief marketing officer.
When he isn't on the road presenting training workshops, Rob teaches at Harvard University, Emerson College, and the University of Massachusetts - Lowell where he teaches classes on Digital Media Development, Web Store Creation, Software Programming, Business Strategies, and Interactive Marketing Best Practices.
He is the author of "Fishing From a Barrel," a guide to using audience targeting in online advertising, and "Advertising Interactively," which explores the development and uses of rich-media-based advertising. He has been an industry columnist covering interactive marketing, digital media, and audience targeting topics since 1999.