6 Tips for Effective Social Merchandising

By now, most digital and social teams have their process largely figured out when it comes to social media marketing to support their brand:

  1. Post interesting content
  2. Sponsor to increase reach
  3. Measure and repeat

But social merchandising is quite a bit different. Rather than focusing on driving conversation about the brand in general, social merchandising efforts focus on driving momentum and engagement for specific products.

It’s the difference between getting someone to like “Nike” vs. getting someone excited about the new “White Ice FuelBand” from Nike.

Social merchandising is still a relatively new endeavor. However, brands with large social audiences have quickly learned how to best craft strategies and programs to drive engagement for specific products. Here are the top lessons they’ve learned:

1. Start with a high-potential product or collection. Some products have more social potential than others; they just do.

“Limited edition celebrity design” = high potential
“The same cleaning product as last year” = not so much

Social channels have some unique capabilities, but, in general, they aren’t magic. Pick a product or collection that’s worth talking about and sharing. Focus on items for which you can build up exclusivity, anticipation, or urgency.

2. Determine your target audience. Social audiences are just as, if not more, fragmented and specialized than traditional audiences. Create a basic demographic and psychographic profile of the group(s) you’re trying to “activate” with your social merchandising effort.

Personas are often very useful here. Once you identify that you’re trying to reach a late-40s soccer mom and her teenage son to get them interested in your product, that will inform your approach significantly.

3. Define desired actions. There are lots of ways for an audience to participate with, and lend social momentum to, a product. What is it that you want them to do most?

  • Discover the product via a social post or channel?
  • Explore and engage with the product to learn about it?
  • Create and share content to amplify the product’s reach and momentum?
  • Take a step toward purchase through a wish list or even a transaction?

Identifying the desired action(s) for your target audience is the most important input to defining your social merchandising experience.

4. Choose channels wisely. Not all social channels are created equal. In fact, some are much better at driving certain types of activity than others. Your choice of social channel(s) for a given social merchandising effort should be based on who you’re targeting and what you want them to do.

Some food for thought as you evaluate various channels:

  • Facebook. Timeline’s reach and richness make it great for product-related posts, but be sure to keep some budget handy for Sponsored Stories. Product experiences that use Open Graph to amplify users’ engagement can be particularly effective.
  • Pinterest. It can be an excellent venue for the collection and curation of product-related content, but tends to relate to fairly specific audience segments. Make sure your target audience is one of them.
  • Twitter. The recent capability of Twitter Cards to bring in images and details from a product page have made it better for social merchandising. Be careful to not get too “spammy” though, as it can be difficult to create contextual experiences in 140 characters.
  • YouTube. If you’ve got rich video content to work with, this can be a great channel in which to tell product stories to social audiences.
  • Instagram and Tumblr. They can both be powerful channels for certain segments, but typically require a certain approach to your social merchandising program – one that relies heavily on user-generated content and organic momentum.

5. Use the most rich, visual product content you can. Today’s social channels are far more visual than they were a year ago. Brands should look to leverage their richest and most arresting imagery to get attention in today’s feeds – especially on mobile.

Many brands already have high-res product assets in their “lookbooks,” catalogues, and digital asset management systems. These key assets should be made available to all teams that support social merchandising efforts.

6. Build your process and tools for reuse. As with other social media marketing efforts, social merchandising should not be seen as a “one-time campaign.” Instead, look to establish a repeatable process and toolset that will allow you to conduct effective social merchandising programs to support your key products on an ongoing basis.

Some areas to focus on for maximum repeatability and efficiency:

  • A process for aligning your digital, social, and e-commerce teams around a social merchandising program.
  • A toolset to post and measure product-related content and experiences across multiple channels.
  • A set of reusable sites and social apps that are built for social merchandising and tuned for discovery, amplification, conversion, etc.

Start Finding Your Social Merchandising Best Practices

Social merchandising holds tremendous promise for brands that want to build social momentum for their products – but it won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution.

The best way to understand which customer segments, social channels, and product categories yield the best results for your specific brand is to start running social merchandising programs and measure their effectiveness.

The companies that make that a priority in 2013 will be in the best position to “put social to work,” driving meaningful product engagement…and sales.

Social Commerce image on home page via Shutterstock.

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